There’s nothing like it in the valley, all of Colorado, the whole country, and maybe even the entire world: the Minturn Fitness Center, a $2.5 million partnership between a funky Eagle River town and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Club of the Year (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail) that opened at Maloit Park in the summer of 2014.
“We’ve never seen anybody who’s done a half public–half private partnership on a rec center that’s used by the general public and an elite athlete population,” says SSCV’s human performance director John (“J. C.”) Cole, one of the masterminds behind the project, which serves residents of Minturn (at a pittance), anyone who lives in or visits the valley (at rates comparable to those of other area clubs), and everyone who races with Ski Club Vail (for free).
“What’s really important for people to wrap their heads around is that every piece that we use for our elite athletes is something we can also use for our general-public clients, people who want to increase their capacity for sport,” he adds. “And that’s what really gets me excited.”
The center houses a gym where specialized compressed-air-powered strength-training machines, like those used by collegiate and professional athletic teams, share the workout floor with conventional exercise equipment. Then there’s the human performance lab, where anybody who trains at the facility can undergo a complete fitness assessment that measures the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity, lactic acid threshold, power output, and range of mobility.
There’s even a corner of the lab reserved for a $40,000 altitude chamber (on hold until a benefactor surfaces), a hermetically sealed room with an airlock instead of a door where elite athletes will be able to train not in even thinner air, but in an oxygen-rich environment that simulates sea level.
“Most people think that living at this altitude makes us better athletes at sea level,” Cole explains. “But we find that when our athletes go to compete at sea level, they feel sluggish, like they can’t move their body through space because they’re not used to the oxygen-rich environment. This will assist in mitigating that.”
Such bells and whistles aside, for Ski Club Vail athletes the 8,000-square-foot rec center represents a significant upgrade from the 800-square-foot workout room at the team’s previous ramshackle headquarters at Vail’s Golden Peak.
“When Lindsey [Vonn] came through the program, there was no weight room,” Cole says. “Before it was a weight room, it was a storage room, and we were sweeping dead mice out of it. People say, ‘You sent twelve athletes to Sochi and came back with five gold medals. How do you do that out of a shack that’s falling apart around your ears?’ And we have always said, ‘It’s the people, not the place.’ So just imagine what the product is going to be like moving forward. That is just blue-sky territory.”