HomeNews Local company takes steps to open action sports facility
Local company takes steps to open action sports facility
Written by Seth Mensing
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
“You’ve got to throw in a back flip”
With the changing of every season, we in the Gunnison Valley are reminded that as much as gravity is a force of nature, it’s also an industry. What might be less evident is that the industry is growing, especially when it comes to demand for aerial expertise on skis, bikes and boards. And that’s where local action sports entrepreneur Doug Hudson sees his niche and a future for a year-round indoor action sports center in the Gunnison Valley.
Hudson and his wife, Alexandra, started Gravity Groms, an action sports-oriented day camp for kids, in Crested Butte three years ago and have seen staggering growth since the beginning: 295 percent the second year, 141 percent the third. After wondering how to handle 15 kids one day the summer he opened, he and last year’s staff of 20 had no problem treating 30 kids to a day in the skate park or bike track every day for two months straight. But it was only two months of business and even in the best of circumstances, the season for a summer day camp in the valley isn’t much longer than three, Hudson says. The need to extend the business season, coupled with the cast of local talent in need of a place to practice their aerobatics, moved them toward the brand’s next big step: Gravity Ranch. With the gears still turning to make Gravity Ranch a reality, Hudson says he can’t disclose the exact location of the property being considered, except that it’s somewhere near Crested Butte South on Highway 135 and should be operational sometime in the spring of next year. With an existing 12,000-square-foot building, formerly used as an equestrian arena, the property fits the need for space perfectly, allowing room for different disciplines to maneuver safely, simultaneously. Hudson explains that new technology introduced over the summer will also allow snow-based athletes the freedom to test their skills on skatepark-type features without snow, giving facilities the chance to provide access to more athletes with less space than before. He also envisions foam pits and trampolines fitted with twisting and flipping harnesses—everything athletes need to take their performance to the sky will be there. “But the real catalyst for the whole thing was moving back to Crested Butte and seeing kids from California and Vermont kicking local kids’ [butts] in extreme comps,” Hudson says. “Local kids used to dominate every podium in those comps.” And they should, he adds: “This place is chock-full of genetically engineered athletes.” One notable local athlete, Aaron Blunk, Hudson recalls, left Crested Butte to receive coaching and training, in part at an indoor facility in Vail because it was essential to taking his skill on skis to the professional level. “It occurred to us that booting a 60-foot cliff doesn’t cut it anymore,” Hudson says. “You’ve got to throw in a back flip.” But to do that safely, athletes need to become students of motion and gain a comfort and mastery in the air that can be achieved only through coaching and repetition. For that, they need a place to train, like Gravity Ranch. Once the idea of entwining gymnastic techniques with action sports took off, the athletes never looked back. By 1980, Camp Woodward, the famed gymnastics training ground in State College, Pa., was opening its facilities to skateboarding and BMX use. “When Johnny Moseley threw a dinner roll in the Olympics, everyone caught on right then,” says Hudson. At about the same time ten years ago, the owners of Camp Woodward were expanding their business plan to include snow sports and opened a fourth location in a growing franchise, Woodward at Copper. “In the last ten years, with the advent of action sports becoming ubiquitous in American culture, Woodward has exploded,” Hudson says. Their success has given Hudson a model to work from and hope for the future of his own company’s brand. Watching athletes push the limits of their sports with year-round training makes him sure there’s a place in the big show for local athletes. And developing a stable of action sports talent puts Hudson’s gravity brand in a unique position to take that next step with the athletes who train at Gravity Ranch, if the need arises. According to what he’s heard from local athletes, the need already exists. “In terms of larger scale local support, it’s hard to come by,” he says. “We’d like to try to help fill that [sponsorship] niche with the local athletic community.” Granted, sponsorship is still down the road, with pieces for the facility just falling into place. But Hudson is confident that when he builds it, the talent will come. He’s just got to get everyone on board. On his talking tour last week, Hudson solicited the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, along with the city of Gunnison, for a letter in support of his plan to be used in gathering financing and to convince Gunnison County to adjust the property’s land use designation to allow for commercial use. With those endorsements in hand, Hudson is confident the Gravity Ranch dream will become a reality. So much so that for those who sign up for a $400 annual Gravity Ranch pass during a presale taking place before the facility opens, lifetime passes will be available for half price. “If you get our back in the beginning,” Hudson says, “we’ll have your back for life.”