Stratton Introduces Terrain Park Safety Ed Program
by Mitch Kaplan
Kids will jump. They will grab air, big or small, at any opportunity. They almost can’t help it. From this flying impulse evolved the terrain park - a formalized place in which kids could launch themselves. And now the terrain park itself has evolved. What was once some snowy bumps and objects in the snow has become a gathering of huge snow launching and landing pads separated by enormous gaps, curiously arced or s-curved bannisters called rails, and deep pits bordered by twenty-foot walls called Superpipes.
With that evolution has come another set of problems - safety. Safety in terms of crash landings, of course, but also elements of protocol, cross traffic and general alertness and awareness.
At Stratton Mountain Resort, an always progressive resort that was among the first to allow snowboarding, terrain parks have grown to enormous proportions. But, starting this season, no one may idly slide into their most challenging playground - Power Park. To qualify for Power Park-ing, riders must complete SES - the Safety Educations Session. “If you want to go into Power Park, you must go through an education course,” Kathy Buckley, mountain safety coordinator, explained to me.
In implementing a program to qualify riders for park use, Stratton has followed the lead of Ontario’s Blue Mountain and British Columbia’s Whistler-Blackcomb. It may, indeed, be a the beginning of a trend.
Still, it’s easy enough to decide that gap-jumpers and rail-sliders need to be educated. But, it’s another thing altogether to design and implement a program to meet that need. The primary challenge is simply this: how to bring these park rats - most of whom are kids - up to speed without alienating them or, worse, rendering them resentfully defiant.
You start by designing an approach that doesn’t dictate behavior with hard rules and punishment, but emphasizes positive reinforcement. “Our identity is to make safety cool and fun,” Buckley said, “and we’re looking for a team effort, where participants themselves help to spread the word.
To achieve this goal, the Stratton safety team started planning last spring. They focused on designing a cool place to hold the sessions, creating the program’s identity, writing the curriculum, and creating an instructional video. Kathy and her team traveled to their sister resort Blue Mountain to look at a safety program there. Then they considered what would work at Stratton, beginning with the edifice that would house the program - an igloo.
"We put the igloo right at the entrance to the park," Buckley said. "It has four TVs and we have the safety video going simultaneously on all of them. The acoustics gives it a kind of surround-sound, multi-screen effect." Participants sit on trapezoidal shaped benches - the same shape as a tabletop, and a shape that’s echoed in the SES logo. "The igloo can handle twenty to thirty people at a time," Buckley noted.
Three educators staff the igloo at all times. They greet newcomers and review safety issues. The video is then watched, followed by a review session. Then, sign the assumption of risk form and receive a park pass. "There’s no test or anything like that," Buckley explained, "but kids under eighteen must have a parent’s signature." Indeed, parents are encouraged to come experience SES for themselves.
The program emphasizes etiquette, handling variable conditions, and general awareness. Safety issues include: respect, look before you leap, approaching park elements, executing landings and a reminder to call "Droppin’ in!" before approaching an element. "The video shows professionals in the park," Buckley said, "and when it ends, the educators ask ‘What’s wrong with the video?’ Usually we quickly get the answer - ‘Nobody falls.’" The entire presentation runs a half-hour.
Ticket checkers man the park’s entrance and, within the facility, "park rangers" review the rules with anyone who doesn’t follow them. "If they see someone who can’t handle the elements, they recommend the person go through a class at ski school," Buckley explained. Stratton’s ski/ride school has recently implemented classes specifically for the parks.
Has the program been well received? According to Buckley, yes. "We thought we’d get a lot of resentment, but it’s been just the opposite," Buckley said. "We have thirty to forty-foot jumps, and we’re keeping less skilled riders out of the park who are accident prone and a danger to others. The more skilled riders are happy about that. We haven’t experienced much resentment. And the igloo has been so successful that it’s become a place to hang out. People have to squeeze in."
Buckley estimates that nearly 4,000 people have experienced the program to date and, while railsliding injuries remain abundant, "We’re seeing fewer concussions," Buckley offered. They also may be seeing the future of terrain park participation.
Catch more SES and Stratton terrain park info at www.stratton.com.
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.