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Mammoth Invitational revs up for next weekend

April 6, 2012

John Teller at last year's Mammoth Invitational. Photo/Submitted

It has been four years since The Big Idea floated down from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. 

The Big Idea was the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation, which next weekend is throwing a high-powered, fund-raising bash on the Mountain.

U.S. Ski Team downhiller Stacey Cook will be there; so, too will be skicross champ John Teller, both bringing a contingent of top athletes to the show.

This is the weekend that the big money shows up—last year the Invitational brought in $500,000—all in support of creating of a symbiosis among the Mammoth public schools, Cero Coso Community College, and top, up-and-coming ski racers and Nordic athletes.

It is a bold idea, and nothing quite like it exists.

There is the Burke Academy in Vermont, an exclusive academy and a virtual pipeline to the U.S. Ski Team. And there is the Vail Valley Foundation, which has a robust ski program that also includes a heavy emphasis on education. In California, Sugar Bowl Academy offers college preparatory programs for competitive skiers.

But the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation says it is trying out a brand new idea.

“In the immediate future, MMCF will address three main priorities,” said Mark Brownlie, the managing director for athletics at the ski hill and MMCF vice president.

“First, we want to continue to raise sufficient capital to initiate construction of a training facility,” he said.

The training facility, according to foundation spokesman John Armstrong, would contain video training, classrooms and training equipment. It would be situated near Main Lodge.

Armstrong said the facility would extend well past skiing and snowboarding to include facilities for all athletes in any sport from any country who would take advantage of a high-altitude training center.

 The holdup on the facility, Armstrong said, is working out an arrangement with the Inyo National Forest. The easiest arrangement, he said, would be the land exchange that already has been proposed and is sitting on the Feds’ table.

Meanwhile, Brownlie has been hard at work integrating the Mammoth athletes into Mammoth High School. The high school would receive any number of benefits that would spread across the student body and faculty.

“Until the facility is constructed,” Brownlie said, “we want to continue to partner with MMSA to provide state-of-the-art winter sports training tools and programs for our youth athletes, as well as work with community stakeholders, including the Mammoth Unified School District and MMSA, to substantially enhance educational services to all members of the extended Mammoth community.”

So that’s the big idea: a ski academy within the public schools, utilizing the ski area’s coaching and facilities.

It would be a kind of Burke Academy on steroids.

“One of the biggest assets we have,” Armstrong said an in interview earlier this week, “is that we have the longest ski season in North America.”

And if things break just right, kids from all over the U.S., as well as local kids, could take advantage of that.

“It costs $36,000 for a kid to go to Burke,” Armstrong said, “and we think we could do it for $6,000.”

Part of The Big Idea came from Dave McCoy; part of it came from Rusty Gregory and part of it came from Brownlie.

But the big mover in the project is Austin Buetner, a high-profile Los Angeles business leader, philanthropist, and recent Los Angeles First Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive for Economic and Business Policy. Buetner, who has a home in Mammoth and a son who skis, currently is running for Mayor of Los Angeles.

The gist of it was to create a world-class training facility near Main Lodge.

Brownlie, in an email, said this of the MMCF’s work:

“The MMCF believes that educated, healthy, globally-conscious children are the foundation of our strong, vibrant and diverse extended Mammoth community. 

“Children prosper when they are connected to one another in an environment which celebrates the common threads of their aspirations, embraces their differences, and challenges them to improve themselves.”

We envision a community where every child is connected with another child to build lasting friendships and jointly overcome obstacles on their path to becoming fully realized members of our community.”

All of it will take money, and a lot of it.

The invitational begins Friday and lasts through Sunday.

The big day is Saturday, when the Race Department sets up racecourses for the skiers and snowboarders. In the evening is the big-bash banquet and awards dinner.

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