Build a Terrain Park & They Will Come ..
For the rails, the boxes, the whoop-de-doos and more...
by Mitch Kaplan
At the bend in the trail, a bright orange plastic fence forces a pause. To continue, you must sidle through a narrow corral-like opening. A large sign announces not only that you're entering a terrain park, but that you should know the ground rules that apply therein. In the near distance below, the first in a series of snow mounds can be seen, its perimeter highlighted in day-glow orange paint.
Terrain parks are the rage these days. Nearly all ski areas have set aside trail space for them. Some, like tiny Mt. Peter, NY, might have a small one. Others, like Mountain Creek, NJ, devote much ground and even entire trails to them. Still other places, like Bear Mountain and Boreal, CA, have spread parks over the entire mountain. Once magnets only for snowboarders (and indeed originally called "snowboard parks"), they now attract skiers, too, especially with the advent of twin-tipped skis that can be easily ridden backwards.
In search of some insight into terrain park, halfpipe and Superpipe construction, I spent a day last winter at Killington visiting with Jeff Temple, director of operations, and Jay "Rosey" Rosenbaum, snowboard operations supervisor. Talk about eye-openers - when it comes to making these playgrounds, most park denizens don't know the half of it.
Killington creates at least seven parks and a Superpipe during the season, including one that's prepared just for the early weeks before enough snow has fallen or been made to build the permanent ones. A staff of eleven is employed just to build, maintain and supervise the parks - and that doesn't include the snowmaking and grooming personnel who contribute to the effort as part of their everyday chores. Under ideal conditions, Rosey said, two weeks' labor is required to create a park from scratch: a week of snowmaking; and a week to sculpt the snow and install elements. Seldom, however, are ideal conditions encountered.
Park planning begins well before the snow ever arrives. Rosenbaum and Temple related how they and other staffers had walked Killington's Bear Mountain peak for two weeks the previous summer to find the ideal spot to install a new Superpipe. For parks, Rosey said, "We like to select a site with a medium grade or pitch. Wider trails are better and, of course, we prefer trails that are free of lift towers and other obstructions. We also avoid double fall lines because more snow is needed to fill in low spots." Once the site is selected, Rosey develops a rough idea of what is to be created. "We make a blueprint of sorts," he said. "Then, we start making start making snow."
"Rosey develops a model of how he wants to see the park," Temple added. "I take that into account with snow planning, and figure out where the snow is going to go, so we can build the elements. I can devote a few extra days of snowmaking to it, as needed. When we have enough snow, that's when we start roughing it in." Temple must, of course, balance park snowmaking with the area's general snowmaking needs. "On any given day that you're putting snow in the park, there are twenty other places on the mountain that you could be putting snow, and they're all up there in importance," he pointed out.
Want to appreciate how sophisticated snowmaking has become? These guys tailor the type of snow for specific situations. "We like wetter snow for parks; it sticks together better, and you can get it to where you want to be more quickly," Rosey said. "Then we dust it with the dry stuff."
There's no formula for the amount of snow needed, they emphasized. It depends on what's being built and where. The elements are roughed in with grooming machines, a few days' work, and are finished by hand when the staff goes in with shovels and rakes to create the best contours. In the Superpipe, however, which has 18-foot walls set at an 18-degree angle and is 430 feet long, a Zaug device is attached to the front of the groomer. The Zaug cutter not only reaches up the pipe's walls, but continues across the front of the groomer to create a smooth transition from wall to pipe floor; it eliminates much of the work that’s usually required after the cat has gone through. This is an $80,000 item. It's attached to a machine that costs $250,000 to $350,000.
Killington crews fabricate their own rails and boxes. About 40 are in use at high season. About five are "retired" annually, usually as a result of being hit by groomers. "The elements are moved around a lot to refresh the parks," said Rosey, "and the drivers might not remember what's where." And, not just anyone can be on the parks crew or drive groomers. Drivers must have at least two years experience, and "We look for individuals who want to be in these places riding," Rosenbaum noted. Indeed, when a park is near completion, staff "get in and ride the stuff" to assure it's right.
Add up the cost of snowmaking, grooming equipment, and the man-hours spent fabricating elements and hand-tending the facilities, and it's only natural to ask if it's worth it. "Customer demand is a driving force," Rosey explained. "The location and competition of other resorts demands that we keep pace; they can go to other resorts so easily. Added Temple, "You have two groups. The high-end riders will go to another resort if they don't find what they want. And, there’s families, who often decide where to go based on what the kids see on the trail map. We've made a major commitment to having the whole range of facilities. We feel it's a big part of the market."
"When I was growing up in the eighties," Rosey concluded, "the question was ‘Which resort allows snowboarding?’ Now it's ‘What resort has great terrain parks?’ Plus, the early riders have grown up. They’re having families of their own, and their kids are looking for this stuff."
And thanks to guys like these two, they’re getting what they want. Few, I imagine, understand just how much work is required to expedite their play.
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...... 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.