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Aspen's Pride And Joy

The new clubhouse for the Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club is oh-so Aspen. It's at the base of a new $1.5 million double chairlift connected to the Aspen Highlands race arena. It's surrounded by 80 kilometers of nordic trails that fan out over three undulating golf courses. It's just steps from the high school and middle school, the source of its young athletes and recreational members. It cost $2.1 million to build. Donations came in the form of a $1.3 million parcel of land and cash gifts in the $500,000 range.

Yes, it's all quite Aspen, especially the interior.

The clubhouse boasts a weight room, a video room, a kitchen, locker space for 280 kids, a conference room, coaches' offices, waxing rooms, gear storage and the ultimate luxury for cold young racers¿hot showers.

Like many buildings in modern Aspen, it's large¿10,000 square feet in three stories¿and has architectural flair. But the most significant aspect of the building is that it didn't exist until this winter.

For years, young Aspen competitors used facilities that were little more than shacks. The alpine team had a small, ancient building near the base of Aspen Mountain. The staff was housed in the original Aspen Skiing Company building at the base of Lift One, complete with low ceilings, sagging floors and a leaky basement.

The nordic team was housed in a tiny shed behind a hot dog joint that sold food to softball players in the summer town league. The snowboard team, born in the Nineties, was nowhere.

There was no place to meet on race days. The coaches kept their offices in their cars. Gear was stored in every corner of the community. The Aspen Valley Ski Club had no clubhouse.

And this for a club that has 250 hardcore competitors, 1,400 local kids in recreational and educational programs, and a history going back to 1937, when the locals got together to cut a ski trail on Aspen Mountain. It was the Aspen Valley Ski Club that hosted the 1950 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships, the first major international ski race held in the U.S.

While the club has never had an alumnus win an Olympic gold medal, it has sent dozens to the U.S. Ski Team, including current team member Katie Monahan. Skiing stalwarts such as Olympic downhiller Andy Mill, U.S. Skiing president and CEO Bill Marolt, Vail founder Pete Seibert, and ski racer and photographer Dick Durrance are all Aspen Valley Ski Club alumni. The club could easily point to its roots symbolized by a Forties shack at the base of Aspen Mountain, because in the winter of 1999-2000, it was still in a Forties shack at the base of Aspen Mountain.

I wanted to figure out some way to get the nordic team a place to change their clothes and wax their skis without doing it in an unheated shower stall," says Tom Moore, 58, the prime mover behind the new building. Moore spent the Fifties as a kid in the ski club and went on to serve as club president. In the mid-Nineties, when Moore was developing the family's 215 acres of ranch land as residential property, he wanted to at least provide a small building for the nordic team. The concept grew into a central clubhouse that could bring all the club's current disciplines together¿alpine racers, nordic racers, snowboarders and freestylers.

On a parallel track, international developer Gerald Hines was winning local approvals for the new, adjacent Highlands Village, which included the idea of a "school lift" connecting the school campus¿and the ski club building site¿to the Aspen Highlands race arena on Thunderbowl.

Hines got approval for the new base village. Moore got approval for his subdivision. And then the Aspen Valley Ski Club began to raise money.

In addition to donating the million-dollar building site, Moore kicked in $175,000 in cash. So did Hines. Then, part-time Aspenite Dick Butera donated $200,000 to the capital campaign and another $500,000 as a challenge grant. The Gates Foundation contributed $300,000. And Frieddl Pfeifer's family put up $500,000 to help make the building a reality and provide a namesake for the clubhouse.

It was Pfeifer, an Austrian who taught at Sun Valley in the late Thirties, who first approached Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke about financing the original lifts in Aspen, and who then went on to run Aspen's ski schools and help define its early skiing style.

The club asked Aspen architect Al Beyer to come up with the plans. Beyer, who had designed several backcountry ski huts, jumped at the chance to create a facility that reflected the energy of young skiers and snowboarders.

He did. The building practically screams "ski club!" The roof at the entrance is sloped upward like a ski tip, complete with metal edges. Cutting through the ski-tip overhang is a flagpole with a strap-like banner that looks like a giant ski pole. The basket of the ski pole is a bench where the kids hang out and wait for mom to pull into the circular driveway.

The roof in the back is in the shape of the business end of a snowboard, which not only gives the building attitude, it provides more area for storage above the equipment rooms.

Beyer used barn wood to line both the exterior and interior walls of the building¿homage to the old barn that used to be on the former ranch land. And like almost all new buildings in ski country, the ski club building has a great room. But in this case, it's a great locker room. The main hall is lined with lockers. The center of the room, underneath the wooden trusses that speak of old ski lodges everywhere, is the mosh pit of modern ski country bedlam.

"It's a fun building," says Beyer. "It is, after all, a place for kids and it communicates that it is a place for winter sports. It has a sense of identity."

AVSC Director Toby Morse, a ski club alumnus himself, glows when he discusses the afternoon chaos. "At about 1 pm, the first athletes come over from the high school to change, wax their skis and head up to Thunderbowl for race training," Morse says, standing on the coaches' balcony overlooking the main locker room. "At 3:15, a huge wave of kids pours through and scrambles to catch the late lifts that run until 4:30 pm. By 4:15, the nordic skiers have their skis waxed and are stepping outside to the tracks, which run on both sides of the building. At 5, the coaches are going over videos with the athletes. Between 5:30 and 6 pm, there are 200 kids in here hanging out, doing homework and waiting for their rides to take them home. And on weekends and race days," says Morse, "it's absolutely packed."

The building is also packed with symbolism. It has revitalized the feeling that Aspen is still a community ski town, and not just a resort. "Junior skiing will be a serious part of the community again," says Morse. And what may be the world's best ski and snowboard clubhouse is the new epicenter of that community.

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