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The Salt Lake Tribune
It's the call athletic directors dread. Chris Hill got word last Thursday from one of his biggest boosters that something about his passion project wasn't quite right.
Spence Eccles, the main force behind the construction of the new ski team facility told Hill that there was a problem: From the second-floor balcony, two trees in the parking lot blocked his view of the "Block U" on Mount Van Cott on the northeastern fringe of campus. How else would recruits be able to see one of the most iconic features of the university?
His message: The trees had to go.
By Wednesday morning, as roughly two hundred alumni and donors crowded under a tent to officially dedicate the building, the offending flora had been removed. No detail of this project was going to be overlooked, Eccles said.
"Let me at those recruits," he said to laughter from the gallery. "Get them up on my balcony looking at that beautiful Block U."
The balcony and the rest of the $2.8 million project was officially opened Wednesday, as Eccles, Hill and other power players celebrated the ski team's new home. It was christened with an appropriate tribute to the team itself — the 2017 NCAA championship at the center of a trophy wall in the new board room.
The Utes see the facility as key to adding more hardware to the walls: It includes men's and women's locker rooms, a state-of-art ski tuning room, video areas and storage space for the most recent title-winning team at the University of Utah.
Ski director Kevin Sweeney, who broke a 14-year championship drought with the win in New Hampshire last month, said the trophy and the new building felt like the perfect convergence for his program. While the Utes hoped that the roughly 5,800-square foot building would be opened at some point during the season — a needed upgrade from the shed which has housed the team for the last eight years — but Sweeney said the end result is one he can't help but be happy about.
"It just feels right," "We had an amazing season, and it just feels right to bring this trophy home and put it front and center. There is no feeling of, 'Oh, we've done it, we're finished.' It's actually a motivator to put that trophy up there and say, 'OK, we're continuing the tradition at the University of Utah, and let's keep it going.'"
The program has 11 NCAA team titles, the most of any sport at the university. University president David Pershing also noted that 14 members of the team were national all-academic honorees, carrying at least a 3.5 GPA in the fall.
As the Utes considered moving the ski team last year to make way for new practice fields, it was brought to Eccles, who was an All-American in skiing himself in 1957, that an appropriate home for the decorated program was long overdue.
Now, Eccles' name doesn't just decorate the building, but his picture — donning skis and goggles as an athlete — hangs in the hallway as well.
"I just felt like we had to finally get rid of that Tuffshed and have what we needed to win more medals and be respected in the community," he said. "These are great young people. They're very accomplished."
Eccles also made remarks directed at Hill, hoping to see improvement in the skiing annual budget. Hill quipped: "If you think I'm cutting the skiing budget, you're crazy."
The big winners of the day, of course, were the skiers themselves, who posed in front of the building and waved with presidential gusto from the balcony. The interior is the truly exciting part, Sam Dupratt said, particularly the tuning room that the program sees as perhaps the biggest advantage the building will provide.
The view, he added, ain't bad either.
"I guarantee we'll have at least 10 barbeques every year," DuPratt said. "It's insane to me, win or lose, the support never seems to falter."
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