Always in Season

Transforming Single-Season Swimming Into Year-Round Fun

By Kate Bongiovanni

FORGET THE KIDNEY-SHAPED COVERS to keep the leaves out, winter hibernation and draining that summer haunt, and being forced inside and out of the water when inclement weather hits. Swimming pools and other outdoor recreational facilities are transforming from single-season—in many parts of the country—to year-round centers thanks in part to technology and building materials that have been growing in popularity for the past 30 years.

Alan Dodson, owner of Sun Building Products in Garland, Texas, has worked in the business for the past 25 years and has witnessed the increase in enclosed facilities both residential and commercial. "They do it so they can swim year round," Dodson said. He also explained that the technology has evolved from primitive opening systems to sophisticated cable systems. The use of materials has changed from steel construction to more superior aluminum, and support structures no longer quickly turn black from mold and mildew or erode due to chlorine and need to be replaced.

"We design the enclosures in terms of what the customer wants," Dodson said. This can be anything from a structure utilizing concrete sidewalls instead of the more commonly used sliding glass doors to building residential enclosures more elaborate than the home itself. And in working on several projects in tornado-prone areas, he noted that weather plays a role in the design and ensuring that a structure can withstand a force of impact.

Closed Enclosures of a Different Kind

Want to learn how to swim year-round but need an environment focused entirely on teaching the moves and technique? Two business owners took community and client needs to capitalize on their businesses and built two such structures.

When Goldfish Swim School in Birmingham, Mich., opened in March 2006, it became the first indoor pool in Michigan dedicated entirely to swim instruction. Parents register their youngsters ages 6 months and up for year-round programming and can take advantage of two pools that are 4 feet deep, one for babies and one for older children and adults.

Other features at the school include: small class sizes, availability of perpetual lessons rather than sessions, pool temperatures kept at 90 degrees, and a water purification system that prevents skin from constantly smelling of chlorine.

For the Chicago Blue Dolphins, owner John Fitzpatrick always dreamed of creating a swim studio for instruction and training and saw his dream come true in July 2006. He took a small space and made it work for his needs, installing an endless swimming pool with dual-propulsion to have two swimmers learning simultaneously. Fitzpatrick also installed mirrors along the sides and bottom of the pool and on the ceiling so swimmers can watch themselves and correct stroke technique, as well as an underwater and above water video analysis system that can record and then play back to provide on-the-spot swim critique.

Fitzpatrick also provides additional lessons and clinics at pools throughout Chicago and in Lake Michigan in the summer, but the endless pool is unique to his teaching methods.

Learn more about the Goldfish Swim School at For more details on the Chicago Blue Dolphins, visit

Basking in the Sunlight—in January?

It's true: Pool-goers can sit on the deck working on their suntan in the middle of winter. And they don't have to visit a tropical climate to do so.

While it might seem that the only way to have that sun-kissed glow year-round comes through the use of self-tanning lotion, tanning salons or a trip to a warm climate, technology is one of the latest mediums to provide solace to sun-seekers, arriving in the form of a specially fabricated roof found at some indoor waterparks.

At the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, a 93,000-square-foot expansion opened in January 2008 featuring such a roof. Not only could the space boast new attractions and the title of largest indoor waterpark in Ohio and the United States, but the resort helps make Ohio as popular as Florida in the winter with its transparent roof.

The roof system provides a degree of durability, transparency and insulation that fosters indoor vegetation and keeps acoustic sounds at a minimum. And most importantly, it allows ultra-violet light to shine through, providing climate control and year-round sun-tanning for guests.

In Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Wilderness Resorts recently unveiled a new space featuring transparent roof systems. In 2006, the Wild WaterDome, Wilderness Resorts' name for its new 68,000-square-foot park, unveiled an expansion complete with the largest indoor wave pool. Its new roof allows UV light to penetrate and is calculated to save the resort more than $16,000 per month in utility fees according to Joe Eck, sales and marketing director for Wilderness Resort.

Nestled among the Smoky Mountains in Sevierville, Tenn., Wilderness at the Smokies plans to open in the most-visited national park area in the country, feeding off the success of businesses in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

The resort plans to open an indoor waterpark with the unique tan-through roof in fall 2008.

Why use transparent roof systems? Facilities incorporating this type of system into their master plans not only appease the sun-seekers utilizing the space, but also aid the creation of a green-friendly environment. With UV rays able to penetrate inside, facilities can rely on some of the heat created to keep the water at ideal temperatures for guests, and the growth of vegetation—integral to many a waterpark's themed design. The acoustic transparency created by the foils helps keep sounds of active play at a minimum, making it sound more like being outdoors. Eck also explained that the UV rays naturally increase the ability to kill bacteria that's present in indoor environments.

Segments of some of these transparent roofs are constructed using a material more commonly referred to as ETFE: Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene. DuPont first developed this modified co-polymer for use in the NASA space program because it's lightweight, at less than 1 pound per square foot and only needs 1/10 as much energy to manufacture and transport as glass. ETFE also shows anti-adhesive properties, which helps keep dust and dirt from attaching to the surface. Dust and dirt can wash away in the rain and the roof self-cleans.

Enclosures Across the States

From indoor waterparks to YMCA swimming pools, sports structures are going from seasonal to year-round facilities. Enclosures of varying types—transparent roof systems, retractable roof systems, glass windows and/or walls to allow natural light inside—can be seen at facilities across the country:

Massanutten Resort, McGaheysville, Va.: Its indoor waterpark is shaped like a pyramid with wood framing; a transparent system for its roof and glass walls allows sunlight to penetrate and provide a view of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. Opened in July 2005, it became the second ski resort behind Boyne Resorts in Michigan to build an indoor waterpark at a ski destination.

Wild Bear Falls at Westgate Resorts' Smoky Mountain Resort, Gatlinburg, Tenn.: When it opened in March 2007, it became the largest waterpark in the south and boasts a retractable roof for its 60,000-square-foot facility. The roof allows the park to be either indoors or outdoors depending on the weather conditions, and select parts of roof can be opened throughout the day to add shading and climate control to the facility.

Clark County Family YMCA, Vancouver, Wash.: This YMCA boasts a zero-entry pool to accommodate all ages, has a retractable roof for ventilation and protection from the sun's ray, and utilizes a purification system that helps decrease the effects of chlorine on skin, eyes, hair and clothing.

Swim Orlando YMCA, Orlando, Fla.: Residing on the well-known International Drive, this facility claims to be "one of the most prestigious competition and training pools in Florida" according to its Web site, The indoor pool has a retractable roof to accommodate swimming in all weather conditions and can be configured to long course 50-meter lanes.

Raptor Reef Indoor Waterpark, Hayden, Idaho: This waterpark's retractable roof allows the park to be closed in the winter and open in the summer, yet provides year-round sun tanning and a comfortable 85-degree temperature.

Great Wolf Lodge, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.: Its indoor facility caters to water fun year-round as do some of the park's attractions. The Howlin' Tornado ride, a six-story funnel that drops riders 30 feet per second, features a clear dome that provides guests with year-round entertainment.

Kalahari Resorts, Sandusky, Ohio: Its newly opened expansion helps makes this indoor waterpark the largest in the country and its roof system marks it as innovative as well. Guests can enjoy the natural light provided by this roof, perfect for sun-tanning, growing plants indoors, shading for climate control, and minimizing acoustic reverberations.

White Water Bay at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge, Lake George, N.Y.: Across the street from Six Flags' outdoor amusements, this 38,000-square-foot park is the first waterpark to be built inside a hotel in New York state. Its roof allows UV light to penetrate and helps regulate air and water temperatures to a steady 80 degrees.

Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, Galveston, Texas: Voted No. 1 in America in 2007 in Amusement Today's golden ticket survey, its Wasserfest facility features a 70,000-square-foot climate-controlled space with a convertible roof and wall system. Its convertible system allows for the entire space to be either indoors or outdoors depending on the weather conditions.

Manhattan Plaza Health Club, New York, N.Y.: Nothing is impossible in the heart of the Big Apple where this health club features a midtown pool complete with sundeck, tropical vegetation and retractable glass atrium roof.

Olympic Effort

Waterparks aren't the only facilities installing transparent roofs allowing sunlight to penetrate. As China builds a series of new structures to house the sports to be played at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the swimming facility brings pool enclosures to a new level in terms of beauty and conservation. Manufactured by the same company that made the roof for the Kalahari Resort expansion in Sandusky, Ohio, the National Swimming Center in Beijing uses the ETFE system as a skin around the structure. According to the company's Web site, this building is the largest ETFE structure in the world and utilizes more than 1 million square feet of ETFE. The good news is that the ETFE foil helps the complex act as a greenhouse to garner the sun's rays to help heat the pool water and the building itself, cutting down on energy costs.

Retractable Roofing Systems

Although located in San Diego, which has a relatively warm climate and ideal weather conditions year-round, the Mission Valley YMCA still felt the need to enclose its pool. To combat cooler winter and nighttime temperatures, the Y installed a retractable roof enclosure.

Siddhartha Vivek, director of marketing and public relations with the Mission Valley YMCA, explained that the facility has indoor pools with retractable roofs at both its Friars Road and Toby Wells locations; Friars Road also has an outdoor pool.

But don't think of this retractable roof as a roof found at a sports stadium. These structures utilize a different design, allowing only a portion of the roof to open to the outdoors. "They are actually interlocking segments that slide away from each other, opening up a section of the roof," Vivek explained. "So a substantial piece of the roof is retractable, not the whole thing."

This allows the Y to keep three pools in operation for a variety of activities year-round and enhances its programming. "Each pool is kept a different temperature for a variety of programming," Vivek said. "Together, the three pools allow us to provide our members the most complete aquatics center in San Diego."

At the Friars Road facility the indoor pool is kept at 90 degrees, facilitating ideal learning conditions, and also perfect for aquatic exercise classes. Its outdoor pool maintains an 80-degree temperature for swim team programs and lap swimming. The McGrath Family Pool at the Toby Wells location keeps the water temperature at 84 degrees for patrons to play on its waterslide, participate in lessons or lap swimming, or attend exercise classes.

Seasonal Switching

Swim in the winter, ski in the summer. As easy as it is to locate an indoor pool to either play or swim laps year-round, skiing without a snowy climate proves more difficult. But soon skiers will be able to accomplish this without leaving the continental United States, having to hop a plane to a European glacier or a spot south of the equator.

In the city that seemingly has it all, even more exciting attractions stand on the horizon with the expected 2011 opening of Las Vegas WET. The complex will be built on the southern end of the strip and encompass approximately 200 acres filled with entertainment, retail, food, kids' activities and sport opportunities on a grandiose scale. According to the complex's Web site,, planned projects include a 350,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, outdoor water attractions across 25 acres, a 150,000-square-foot indoor snow dome for skiing and snowboarding, an ice rink, a theme park, lodging and condominiums, a casino, sports arenas and a performing arts center. The development would mark the largest indoor waterpark and snow dome in the United States. And for a state that rarely sees snow outside of its northern ski region, Las Vegas WET could potentially turn "the meadows" into a city with anything and everything for everyone even if it seems impossible.

Expected to open in the fall of 2008, Meadowlands Xanadu will bring a whole new sports—plus entertainment, leisure and shopping—adventure to the Meadowlands complex in northern New Jersey. Housed across 4.8 million square feet, this complex will engage all ages with a variety of entertainment options, dining, outdoor attractions and the first snow dome in the United States for indoor skiing and snowboarding.

"We wanted to create a unique experience for consumers by offering the perfect mix of entertainment and retail," said Larry Siegel, president of Meadowlands Development.

Constructed in an already-proven sports mecca, Xanadu plans to have some activity to appease every family member, even if it's just relaxing in a natural environment. While the structure will be enclosed, Siegel explained that natural aspects will be brought in.

"Natural environments will be integrated throughout the space, such as a water garden, rock garden, bamboo forest, an orangerie and flower garden," he said.

But a major draw to visit Xanadu is its sports district, deemed the ultimate skybox and offering premier opportunities to participate and spectate.

"Built within a completely enclosed structure, The Sports District is seasonless, enabling visitors to ski in the summer and ride the waves in the winter," Siegel said. The complex will have a skydiving simulator and Flowrider surfing attraction in addition to its snow dome. The snow dome, over 16 stories tall, creates a 165,000-square-foot ski area entirely indoors, with a slope 800 feet long, equipment rental, a ski lodge, beginner terrain and a half pipe, and peak access via a quad chairlift, two magic carpets and a platter lift. "All of these sporting options will create the ultimate sports and entertainment experience, allowing Meadowlands Xanadu to redefine leisure time," Siegel said.

To learn more about the plans at Xanadu, visit

Swim and Ski Family Fun

For Boyne Resorts, opening Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, connected to the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa at Boyne Mountain in Michigan, just made sense.

"The real competitive advantage is many of these indoor waterparks are built in isolated areas and that's what you do," said Jon Gerstenschlager, marketing director for Mountain Grand Lodge and Avanlanche Bay. "The unique part of Avalanche Bay, and being a part of Boyne Resort, is it has all the amenities and all the accommodations and all the charm of the entire resort. As an example, a family can go to Boyne Mountain and be entertained at Avalanche Bay, but they can also ski on the ski hill that is 50 yards away."

Gerstenschlager explains that the resort updated its packaging to incorporate the waterpark fun with the skiing and golfing available in northern Michigan, and guests need not stay on the property.

"Based on where it's located and the interest in vacationing up north, Avalanche Bay is a little bit different than other spots," he said. "We certainly want and cater to packaged guests that want to be on property, but we also offer daily admission to the park for people who are staying at other hotels or own other property up north or have a cabin. There are a lot of those people and it would be foolish for us not to allow them to enjoy Avalanche Bay as well, and that's not the norm of the indoor waterpark industry."

The park's opening in 2005 transformed the resort primarily successful with the winter ski crowd and summer golf crowd to four-season status.

"It was just a natural fit for us," Gerstenschlager said. "Boyne Resorts needed an amenity that helped them in the shoulder season, which is the spring and the fall when northern Michigan may not be the best." Not only does the waterpark help to keep crowds coming year-round for the Austrian ski village themed attractions, but it can prevent the cancellation of travel plans due to inclement weather or a snow season gone bust.

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