In 1983, Robert Brewster sat across the table from his grandmother whom he lovingly referred to as Mimi. The 27-year-old Brewster had made the U.S. national biathlon team and was training for the XIV Olympic Winter Games to be held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia in 1984.
As they sat at the table, Mimi leaned forward and asked Brewster, “Can you make money as a biathlete?”
Slightly taken aback, Brewster contemplated for a moment and realized the majority of his biathlete peers had devoted their lives to the sport without a substantial monetary reimbursement. He looked back at his Mimi and said, “No.”
Fighting the Cold
During the middle of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska the temperature can get down to a frigid 65 degrees below zero. That’s so cold that The Alaska Club locations in Fairbanks have to provide “plug-ins” to keep a car’s battery from dying while employees leave them running during work — if you turn the car off, it will freeze.
The extreme conditions also prove to be difficult when luring members out of their homes and into the club. However, The Alaska Club utilizes the low temperatures to entice members. “The winter months are actually our busiest months,” Brewster said.
The success in the winter months can be attributed to marketing the 18 Alaska Club locations as a way to socialize and prepare for outdoor activities in the summer months. “People come to Alaska to enjoy the outdoors,” Brewster said. “Then they realize that’s not possible during the winter months.”
To keep members devoted, the club engages members on the passions that brought them to Alaska in the first place. “We capitalize by saying, come here to get out, to help them get ready to get outside,” Brewster said.
Once the members get inside, the winter fight pushes on to maintenance. “We have a few other things to do than other clubs,” Brewster said. “Last week we were at the tail end of a very cold streak. We had a heating unit go down, and with as much moisture we are pumping out of our pools, we have a lot of icing problems. It makes it a little more difficult to operate.”
The Alaska Club has to continuously stay focused on routine maintenance of clubs. Warmth and water are two major concerns. If either goes down, there can be severe repercussions, very quickly. Brewster said that it isn’t uncommon for their clubs to have a $30,000 monthly electric bill.
Aside from the developed clubs, The Alaska Club also owns several other properties throughout Anchorage in preparation for future growth. Currently, most of the properties are vacant, but they still require thorough attention due to extreme weather conditions.
Additionally, the heating units in the clubs have to be continually monitored. However, like many large facilities, the heating units are on top of the building. In normal conditions this wouldn’t be an issue. But, in Anchorage, Alaska, in early January, the temperature with snow and wind doesn’t make the roof on a large facility desirable.
Regardless, for the members to continually brave the elements to exercise, the club must do the same to keep the club functioning properly.
[zanmantou type=”audio” file=”http://www.clubsolutionsmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Brewster2.mp3″ title=”Robert Brewster”]
Building a Connection
Moving to Alaska is a major decision in itself. According to Brewster, Alaska has a 13 percent change in citizens each year. It’s the largest variation of population in the entire United States.
Like previously stated, people tend to see videos of the Alaskan wilderness and want to experience it for themselves. Somehow, they miss the months of extreme cold in the “informative” videos. That is where The Alaska Club comes into play.
They work as a connector of people. “People come up here and are far away from their families,” Brewster said. “They don’t know anyone and it’s too cold to get out and meet people.”
The Alaska Club holds meetings each Tuesday for new members. It gives people a chance to move around and socialize. “We get a lot of doctor referrals,” Brewster said. He didn’t say a lot had to do with depression associated with long months of cold and darkness; however, many people do suffer from depression during the long-cold months — The Alaska Club is the best place for people to move around and alleviate anxiety.
Aside from fitness, the design of the club has allowed them to position themselves as a gathering place. They have large foyers that allow people to congregate and enjoy other company while staying warm.
The Alaska Club also positions itself as the fitness solution throughout the entire city of Anchorage. “Most clubs don’t build locations close together,” Brewster said. The Alaska Club has several clubs at different luxury levels throughout the city for members to use. “Our members will utilize all the different club locations.”
The clubs luxury begins with platinum, then gold, silver, economy and also a women’s only facility. Brewster explained that many members utilize a large portion of the gyms in the cities.
“Women may begin using the women’s only facility because they feel nervous about exercising in the typical gym,” he said. “Once they build some confidence, many of them will move to the other gyms to socialize.”
Other members may typically use a gold gym that is located near their home. However, they may work near an express club and utilize it during their workweek.
Additionally, the platinum gym is adjoined to one of the gold clubs. The top-notch platinum facility has all the high-end amenities, except its own pool and courts. Separating the two clubs is a wall with a glass door. To get through the door members must put their hands on an infrared scanner that reads the member’s hand size, then they must input their special code. Platinum members can easily go back and forth between clubs. The Alaska Club believes these security measures really set the platinum facility a part as a luxury athletic club.
According to Brewster, Alaskans travel quite a bit. The winter months just aren’t a great time to settle in and enjoy the snow. It’s not like the North East where temperatures get low, snow falls, and people still get outside and ski or snowshoe. Alaska is in a league of its own with temperatures reaching horrid lows.
This pushes Brewster and his family to destinations like Maui, Italy, Australia or Cancun (please note that they are all warm). However, as the summer starts to set in across Alaska, people begin to stick closer to home and enjoy their beautiful state.
“The summer is our slow months,” Brewster said. “We hold events like ‘exercise in the park’ and other community activities to stay involved with members and nonmembers.”
Exercise in the park can take on many different forms. Many times a Group X instructor will head out to the park on a Saturday and host a class. Each week the classes vary and sometimes the club takes equipment for participants. The classes in the park are free to everyone.
Last year The Alaska Club teamed with actors of the Broadway performance of Momma Mia to host a Flash Mob. (See ClubSolutionsMagazine. com for example). The actors spent several weeks hosting dance rehearsals at different clubs throughout Anchorage.
“Members were told to show up at the premier of Momma Mia,” Brewster explained. “They were told music would start playing and they should join the dance.”
Just as the members were told, music started playing and members slowly started joining in on the dance creating a Flash Mob. Events like this help convey the message of The Alaska Club — exercise and enjoy life. It subsequently puts the club into the minds of citizens that may not be members and helps get more Alaskans active.
Although, The Alaska Club must deal with extreme forces of nature, Brewster’s knowledge of his surroundings allows the clubs to thrive. After spending the majority of his life in the Wild Frontier, he understands the native Alaskans, as well as those that come to enjoy the states offerings. For Brewster and The Alaska Club, that knowledge is the most valuable asset. -CS
By Tyler Montgomery
Photos By Bob Hallinen