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Winter is almost over, but ski season never ends at Thornton’s Snobahn

Ski season is nearing an end in Colorado’s high country, but it’s just beginning inside what used to be a big-box clothing store in a Thornton shopping center.

That’s where the owners of Snöbahn opened their second location on Saturday at 14200 Lincoln St. The 38,000-square-foot space, previously home to a Stein Mart, features four “ski slopes” — inclined moving walkways — where people can learn how to ski and snowboard indoors or practice what they’ve already learned. Competitive skiers and riders can use it for off-season training.

“This is where they learn proper fundamentals, proper technique, build that muscle memory, build that base from which to go to the resorts and refine that technique on snow,” said co-owner Sadler Merrill, who opened the original Snöbahn in Centennial in 2016 with Gina Merrill.

“They have a mirror for instant feedback, which is better than video. They have an awareness of their movements, they have a coach giving them feedback to get them in proper positions, and it’s highly efficient,” said Merrill, who grew up skiing and attended the University of Colorado. “We say we get as much done in a half-hour lesson as a full-day lesson at the resort.”

The revolving slopes are made of a nylon fiber that is similar to early versions of artificial turf, and are dampened with water to reduce friction; users are required to use skis and boards provided by Snöbahn because they are specially prepared for use on the nylon fiber. Each hill is 32 feet long and 20 feet wide, offering variable degrees of tilt and speed of rotation. Large mirrors allow users to watch and correct their movements in real time. About 95% of the people who come to Snöbahn are beginners or intermediates taking lessons, Merrill said.

For this location, which is two-and-a-half times larger than the original, Merrill has also added a freestyle area with five performance trampolines and a big-air jump with an airbag for landings. It’s can also be used for skateboards, scooters, inline skates and BMX bikes. A mini-ramp can also be used by skaters and bikers who are practicing their moves. Customers must take an intro lesson to participate in freestyle and must be experts to go off the big air jump.

When the Merrills opened the first Snöbahn eight years ago, the concept was met with skepticism within the ski industry and among experienced skiers. And, it soon became apparent Snöbahn needed to offer other activities to be viable.

“We learned that skiing and snowboarding is highly seasonal, not because of lack of snow, but because the change in weather brings change of interest,” Merrill said.

“In May, I can’t get you to come ski and snowboard. Outdoor sports start, and everyone changes gears. The adults are golfing and mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing. The kids are starting their youth sports. Everyone wants to be outside,” he added.

Having watched ski resorts add summer activities in recent years, Merrill realized expanding Snöbahn into action sports could boost business. “We knocked down a wall, added [the trampolines, jump and ramp]. And all of a sudden, we had a very dynamic, interesting summer camp program that had a lot of interest from our customers.”

Ultimately, he added, “our goal is to inspire a lifetime of adventure, to get people in the outdoors. This is a stepping stone to that experience.”

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