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A backhoe takes a bite out of the clubhouse.

Image: Zach Mahone

Ithere was ever such a thing as a love-hate relationship, it was on full display at the demolition of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s clubhouse at Golden Peak in August. Wielding pickaxes and sledgehammers, employees, board members, and longtime associates of the club bid farewell to a building whose time had passed.

The ski racing landmark at the base of Vail Mountain was unlike every other building in the neighborhood—an eyesore, some would say, that was erected indiscriminately in the summer of 1977 by a group of ski coaches with modest carpentry skills who were in need of summer employment.

Little did they know the makeshift clubhouse would become a crucible for some of the greatest skiers and snowboarders in US history. Three Olympic gold medalists—Lindsey Vonn (downhill), Mikaela Shiffrin (slalom), and Kaitlyn Farrington (snowboard halfpipe)—all booted up here during their formative years, as did X Games gold medalist Aaron Blunck (ski halfpipe), world champion Chris Del Bosco (skier cross), and Olympic bronze medalist Toby Dawson (moguls).

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The dilapidated club’s interior, prior to demolition.

Image: Zach Mahone

But for every gold medal winner, for every world champion, for every US Ski Team member whose face was immortalized on a box of Wheaties, there were hundreds of anonymous local kids on whom the clubhouse made an equally significant impact. For these young skiers and snowboarders, the building was more than a gateway to the mountains. It was a place to succeed and fail, a place to forge lifelong friendships and memories; more than anything else, it was a place to have fun.

The clubhouse had reeked of inadequacy for some time. It was built during an era when the club roster included fewer than 100 names; Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) now serves more than 650 athletes and employs more than 100 coaches. Given the club’s notoriety—in 2016 it became the first in the nation to earn three back-to-back Alpine Club of the Year awards from the US Ski & Snowboard Association—its on-mountain headquarters was laughably insufficient in terms of square footage, functionality, and aesthetics. 

In the early 1990s, a group representing the club began exploring the possibility of a major renovation. Despite all of the dedicated resources of the Vail community, what should have been a relatively straightforward task proved to be a perennial exercise in frustration. Year after year, the club anticipated good news, even planned for the inevitability of a winter without a basecamp on Golden Peak—
a necessary sacrifice—but, year after year, the initiative faltered for one reason or another.

Then late this summer, after nearly three decades of disappointment and relentless pursuits by an all-volunteer clubhouse committee and through three iterations of the planning and zoning processes, SSCV finally received approval to break ground on a new, world-class facility.

The 28,000-square-foot, $25 million replacement will have five stories. The first two levels will host SSCV facilities, including enhanced equipment storage, locker rooms, coaches’ workstations, administrative offices, conference rooms, athlete lounges, video rooms, warm-up/warm-down rooms, a tuning facility, a gym, and a medical treatment center. Two private luxury residences will crown the top floors and help pay for the rest of the building, including an underground garage, plus two ground-level affordable housing units.

Some things will change when SSCV takes occupancy at the start of the 2018 ski season. It won’t be nearly as difficult to maneuver through the hundreds of young athletes you’ll find there on Saturday mornings; the whole building won’t shake every time frozen race boots are stomped into submission, and the walls won’t be nearly as easy to put a ski pole through.

But other things won’t change. The new building will remain the club’s gateway to Vail Mountain; it will serve as a crucible for champions, and it will forge lasting memories and friendships for a new generation of formidable ski racers.

Most importantly, it will be a place where kids come to have fun.

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