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Cover Story

First-Class Training

Valhalla’s firearms center offers serious shooters a slice of heaven.

April 01, 2006  |  by Mike Detty - Also by this author

"Remember," said my training officer as he opened the door to the bar," the world is 360 degrees, dark, and crowded."

I crossed the threshold into the dimly lit establishment and immediately scanned the room for threats. The only briefing that I had prior to going in was that there was a hostage situation somewhere in the bar.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I scanned each booth and table where I was greeted by the unblinking gazes of the patrons. Music blared from the jukebox, and the din of conversation and glasses clinking provided distraction as I moved to the opposite end of the bar.

Finally, I saw my target. Less than 10 feet away, the perpetrator held a pistol to the head of another man. I sidestepped to get a clear shot as I drew my pistol, leveled it, and disengaged the safety.

"Drop the gun," I ordered. There was no response so I repeated my demand, this time louder. Still no response.

"Head shoot him now," came an urgent order from my TO.

I quickly checked the sight picture and pressed the trigger. The man with the gun crumpled in a heap to the floor. Then I scanned the room for other threats. Finding none, I reengaged the safety of my pistol and reholstered. My heart was racing, and I bent over to wipe my sweaty palms on my pants legs and take a few deep breaths.

"Nice shot," my training officer Rob Pincus said, slapping me on the back. I had just successfully completed one room of the state-of-the-art Scenario House at the Valhalla Training Center.

Place of the Gods

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a heaven where noble warriors spend their days training and fighting and in the evenings the sick and dead are magically cured in time for bountiful feasts.

But if you think that you have to die to reach Valhalla you're wrong. The heaven known as the Valhalla Shooting Club and Training Center is only as far away as Montrose, Colo.

Valhalla is located on the grounds of the Elk Mountain Resort, situated in the rugged San Juan Mountains near Telluride. Boasting 16,000 square feet, the club features a pro shop and static firing range. But what really sets this facility apart from others is its Scenario House.

Besides the bar, where I shot the hostage taker, the Scenario House offers a number of different shoot-house layouts. These include a contemporary American house with bedrooms, kitchen, and living room; an urban setting with a newsstand, parked car, and streetlight; and the first-class passenger area and cockpit of a commercial jet.

If you're trying to imagine what the Scenario House looks like, just think of a steel box. The two-story shoot house was constructed using floors of quarter-inch steel and walls with eighth-inch steel making it a true 360-degree shoot house. Areas that receive a lot of rounds are reinforced, and there are also portable steel plates that can be moved around each "set" to maximize its versatility.

For safety's sake only frangible loads are used in Valhalla's Scenario House. I had packed my Kimber Custom pistol for my stay at Valhalla, but I was given ammo, International's 155-grain .45 ACP frangible loads, before I went in the Scenario House.

The frangibles functioned just fine, and they shot to point of aim. My instructor had me shoot a steel plate that was a mere five feet away. The bullet completely disintegrated, leaving only a smudge on the target and no rebounding fragments to injure me.

The Principals

After my first run through the Scenario House, Tom Forman, the owner of Elk Mountain Resort, invited me to lunch at the resort's Tarragon restaurant. Forman, a hulking mountain of a man, has quite an interesting background. He's been a professional wrestler, a former no-holds-barred bare-knuckle fighting champion, and was reportedly, at one time, the highest paid doorman in Hollywood.

Now 40 years old, Forman has turned to property development. "My family has been involved in developing cinema and theater properties, and I called in some favors to have movie set designers make the rooms as believable as possible. It was my dream to build the world's largest video game," Forman says.

Forman is unapologetic about his desire for the Scenario House to be fun. "We let families reenact their favorite movie scenes with soft air and paintball guns, and they have a great time," he says.

But the attention to detail also makes this realistic facility great for law enforcement training. Each of the sets in the Scenario House has its own lighting and sound track to completely immerse the trainee's senses in the mock environment.

Forman elaborates, "I was giving a couple a tour of the facility when I invited them to sit down in the airliner. After a few moments, the wife abruptly got up and ran from the room. Later, after she regained her composure, she explained that she had a fear of flying and our set triggered a panic attack."

Like most successful people, Forman surrounds himself with people who have an equal passion for the work.

There probably couldn't have been a better choice to run Valhalla than Rob Pincus. Despite his relatively young age, just 34, Pincus has already amassed an impressive résumé that includes experience gained in the military, law enforcement, and VIP protection. Additionally, Pincus has sought out, often on his own dime, the world's best instructors in armed and unarmed combat.

Realistic Targets

Valhalla's targets also aid in making the experience more realistic to the shooter. The hostage-taker that I shot in the bar was a life-size plastic mannequin, dressed in real clothing. Inside of his head was a balloon connected to a piece of fishing line suspended from the ceiling. When I shot his head, the balloon popped, causing him to fall in a heap.

In another scenario, I walked into a kitchen to find a two-dimensional man holding a can of beer. As I scanned the rest of the room, Pincus activated a remote control and the target spun around. I was still looking at the same man, but now he was holding a .38 pointed at me.

In still another scenario I was walking down a hotel hallway when two AK-47-wielding terrorists popped out to meet me. Shots to their vital zones caused the paper targets to fold back against the wall. Though you'll find some static two-dimensional targets at Valhalla, the majority of them are reactive, computerized, remotely controlled, or sensor activated.

Reality-Based Training

The versatility of Valhalla's Scenario House offers trainers the opportunity to put students in situations that they could never safely achieve on a traditional range. Lighting, sound, vision barriers, and a host of other variables all add to the stress level of the shooter and teach them to focus intently on the threat.

While I was in the "industrial setting" (what looked like a boiler room for any large office building), Pincus turned on a fog machine. In seconds the room was filled with a dense smoke so thick that I could no longer see the door. I finally found a wall and started following it hoping that I would find an exit. Then Pincus turned on the strobe light and I was so disoriented that I had a hard time keeping my balance.

Like Pincus told me before I entered the bar scenario, the world is 360 degrees, dark and crowded. And that takes some getting used to.

Though most of my shooting experience comes from USPSA and IPSC competition, law enforcement training, at least in terms of range rules, is not that different. Shooters are always cautioned not to "break the 180," meaning that they shouldn't turn so that their muzzle breaks the imaginary line that runs parallel to the target's backstop. It's a whole different ballgame in a 360-degree shoot house like Valhalla's Scenario House.

Pincus had me clear an apartment in one scenario. I opened the door, saw a wall to my right, and started clearing the room to the left. When I had finished, Pincus pointed out an aggressor sitting behind the door. I had thought about checking behind the door when I first went through, but doing so would have required me to "break the 180." Safety lessons learned on a conventional range would have cost me my life in this particular scenario.

Valhalla has played host to a veritable alphabet soup of elite military and law enforcement agencies. There's a reason that the "best of the best" come here to train: Valhalla's facilities are first class.

They offer one of the most diverse selections of classes that I have seen but can also custom tailor a class for your agency. If you're serious about your training, Valhalla is an experience that you cannot miss. For more information about Valhalla, visit www.valhallashootingclub.com.

Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.

Elk Mountain Resort

The success of Elk Mountain Resort and the Valhalla Shooting Club comes from the dedication of owner Tom Forman to build something truly incredible.

Forman searched around the world for nearly a decade for the ideal spot to build his dream before finding his present location in Montrose, Colo. Then for nearly a year, Forman slept in his car studying the elk trails, so he would be sure that none of the buildings would disrupt their movement through the property.

Designed to give the flavor of a 19th-century hunting lodge, Elk Mountain Resort features rough-hewn beams, hardwood floors, a stone fireplace, and leather couches for guests to sit on while they gaze at the small spring-fed trout lake the lodge overlooks. Upstairs is a bar, cigar lounge, and pool tables.

The resort is rustic-and that's by design. But don't confuse rustic for uncomfortable. My room had a luxurious king-size bed with down pillows and comforter. Western art and Indian rugs decorated the room while the armoire held the latest plasma screen TV and DVD player and a fully stocked mini bar. The bathroom possessed lavish fixtures and a beautiful shower and separate tub.

Just because you're going to be shooting for a couple days doesn't mean that you should leave the family at home. Elk Mountain Resort has a host of family activities guaranteed to keep everyone smiling. There are wranglers that can take you on a scenic horseback ride through the aspen laden hills. You'll also find a kids camp, tennis courts, ATVs, and go-carts. In the winter, you'll have your pick of ice-skating, cross-country skiing, or racing through local mountain paths on a snowmobile.

Forman also built a chapel on the grounds of Elk Mountain. With its own heliport, and super tight security headed by Valhalla's Pincus, the mountain top chapel is fast becoming popular with paparazzi-shy celebrities. Meeting rooms with state-of-the-art conferencing technology also make this a popular destination for corporate retreats.

As Forman says, "Elk Mountain features a secluded and majestic mountain setting that many describe as 'the Switzerland of America.' Whether planning a romantic escape for two, a family reunion, a fully catered wedding, or a corporate retreat, our guests will find their every wish accommodated and their stay at Elk Mountain Resort truly memorable."

For more information on Elk Mountain Resort, call (970) 252-4900, or visit www.elkmountainresort.com.

Tags: Firearms Training, Reality-Based Training


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