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Rural Views and Progressive Programs

Rebuilt after a fire, The Canyons Athletic Club offers beautiful views and popular programs.

Situated in the middle of the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, The Canyons Athletic Club, Hamilton, Mont., takes advantage of its location. Set in a rural area just outside of town, the facility has views of the Bitterroot Mountains, which can be seen through large windows throughout the west side of the building.

The original fitness center in this spot, River Bend Athletic Club, was destroyed by a fire in June 2003. When building the new facility, "we tried to take advantage of the views as much as possible," says Owner/Manager Jim French. And the plan worked. The new facility has 1,000 more members than the previous one. "We are very pleased with the way our community has received our new facility," French says.

Inside, the facility is almost as scenic. Says French, "When you walk in, people are instantly amazed by the open, inviting atmosphere, due, in large part, to our 36-foot ceilings and large wood beams throughout, and the many windows. While many athletic clubs have similar types of equipment or classes, ... what sets us apart ... is the actual physical appearance of our facility, and the views its location provides."

Although the view may be motivation enough, Canyons offers equipment, programs and classes that rival any modern, urban facility. Among the programs is a Masters swim program that "has been very well-received by members," according to French. Canyons also offers a Pilates program, with private and semi-private instruction on reformers, chairs, foam rollers and Cadillacs, along with Pilates circuit training classes that use the various equipment, and free mat classes.

A tennis program has also been successful, in part because of programs such as free junior and adult lessons, tennis socials and tournaments. Canyons hosts the annual Bitterroot Open, a USTA-sanctioned tournament, which draws players from all over Montana and the northwest. Says French, "We have been especially successful at bringing new players into the game."

The Canyons Athletic Club

Hamilton, Mont.406 363-1555 Date fitness facility opened: October 2004 Number of members: 2,200 members; average of 500 people daily Facility size: 53,000 square feet Group exercise classes: Tai chi, tae kwon do, cardio kickboxing, yoga, NIA, step, BOSU, circuit training, indoor cycling, water aerobics Extras/amenities: Two indoor tennis courts, three racquetball courts, a basketball area, 25-yard pool, three hot tubs, steam room and sauna in each locker room
Another successful program was an in-house triathlon, which tracked members' progress through local terrain. Members were required to swim, bike and run certain distances to complete the triathlon, and prizes were given away throughout the event, and to the final winner. Says French, "It was surprising to see the motivation this provided for our members. We had over 100 members participate, and we plan on making it an annual event."

One summer program takes advantage of the fitness center's location. Called Be Active Bitterroot, it is sponsored by the local Forest Service and federal government. Canyons offer hikes, mountain bike rides and fishing trips throughout the summer, and anyone in the community can participate. "The program is designed to encourage local people to be more active and physically fit, while enjoying the outdoors," says French.

As for the fitness equipment, French attended a trade show to check out all of his options. "While our club was under construction, [we] used that time to decide which type of equipment to purchase. ... We have been very satisfied with [our] decision, and have had very favorable responses from our members," he says.

To generate extra revenue, the facility leases space to a local hospital for a physical therapy clinic. Also, a local tae kwon do club leases an area of the facility, and has approximately 150 children and adults who take classes each week.

Canyons prides itself on its location and its offerings, and has a diverse membership to attest to its success. One population, in particular, has great things to say about the facility: older adults. The fitness center offers special rates for members 65 and older, and gives free memberships to anyone over 85. Says French, "By far our greatest form of advertising is through word of mouth from satisfied members."

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