New-School for Old-Schoolers at Mountain Creek
by Mitch Kaplan
Snow was falling. A powder day was in the air. But, we could see the Mountain Creek Resort youthful sliders—New Jersey’s finest—making sidelong, puzzled glances at our little group. Who were these old guys? And, what were they doing in the terrain park?
They were two middle-aged dads and "uncle" Bill. And, they were schooling in hits, rails, gaps and other cool stuff.
All Terrain Park All The Time
The managers at Mountain Creek decided during summer, 2007, to convert the resort’s South Peak, in its entirety, into the east’s largest terrain park. When in full operation, the park covers 60 acres and includes nearly 100 features and elements with ratings ranging from beginner to experts-only.
Said the resort’s press release, Double-sized, double-stuffed terrain parks! South and Bear Peaks have been turned into the biggest, funnest park in the East!
The long term goal is to create a freestyle cultural/lifestyle hub that focuses on action sports, anchored by a base lodge tricked out with a video lab, DJ booth, and other accouterments of snowsliding’s hip, trend-setting set.
It’s a bold move. And, probably, an intelligent one.
Mountain Creek, in recent years, has developed into one of the country’ premier freestyle sites, due largely to astute business acumen and a keen understanding of its base clientele. The resort built a magnificent halfpipe to Olympic specs, and has attracted major competitions, including the US Grand Prix of Snowboarding and the US Olympic Halfpipe Team selection in 2006. It’s terrain parks have drawn high ratings from most publications.
They know who their clientele is, and how to best serve them.
Dad, Dad and "Uncle" Bill
So, it’s logical to ask, what the heck were three middle-aged, 50-plus dudes doing in the park recently? Seeking a second childhood? Just gone balmy?
None of the above. Who were we? Mr. Griff, Trenton Times ski correspondent and father of a middle-schooler; yours truly, father of adult-aged kids, one of whom rides with Mount Snow’s terrain park crew; and Mr. Jones, SnowEast Magazine publisher, and no father, but an "uncle" in this role.
And, what we were doing there? Testing the resort’s Intro to Terrain Parks lesson.
Mountain Creek created Switch Academy to teach sliders to tackle terrain parks. It’s that simple.
Our session was led by Switch Academy leader, twenty-something Chris Allen, accompanied by his 21 year-old assistant Matt Campbell. Both Allen and Campbell were on skis, and they started by dispelling a common myth: that parks attract snowboarders only.
"Nearly half the people in parks around the country are on skis," Allen said.
The intro lesson begins with park-handling fundamentals. It’s an affordable $30, two-hour investment, that’s worth every penny. It’s likely to save you (or your park-curious child) from beating yourself raw trying to learn the basics.
Parks, we learned, are categorized as "small," "medium," "large" and "XL" to describe the features’ sizes and the skill level required to handle them. We began with a slow descent of the "small" park. We examined each feature while Chris and Matt described the kinds of moves one can execute on it. In doing this, we were practicing "Look Before You Leap," the first rule of "Smart Style," the basic guidelines to park use.
"Smart Style" includes:
Make a Plan. Plan for each feature; your speed, approach and take-off directly affect the maneuver and landing.
Look Before You Leap. Look around the jumps first, not over them. Know that landings are clear and clear yourself from the landing area.
Easy Style it. Start small and work your way up.
Respect Gets Respect.
To illustrate look-before-you-leap’s importance, Chris stopped us uphill from an element. "Looks like a small jump from here, doesn’t it?" he asked rhetorically. It did. But, we skied to it and discovered that it was actually the on-ramp to a low-riding rail (literally a four-inch wide metal bar). Jump that blind and, if you’re lucky, you’ll only suffer a high voice.
We next studied jumps. How to approach them, how to launch, how to land. Speed, of course, is the most important element. Not too fast (danger of losing control or traveling too far in the air), not too slow (you’ll not travel in the air long enough to hit the landing area), but just right (which lands you on the down-slope of the landing area).
Try It. You’ll Like It.
Eventually, we gathered in the learning park, a small, isolated, gently pitched area that had a practice rail set just above snow level. Here we tried jumping and turning ninety degrees in midair to land on the rail with feet flat so we could slide its length sideways.
Yes, there we were. Three old guys trying to "session."
"That’s what kids do," Campbell told us. "They keep walking back to a feature, over and over and over, until they can get the trick."
We sessioned that rail til Daddy Griff and Uncle Bill began sessioning competitive complaints about worn out legs. Dad cautioned that his had suffered 50-plus years of abuse. Uncle claimed his to have endured even more of time’s abuse. This dad contended that legs weren’t the problem. It’s the back that’s showing nearly six decades of maltreatment.
Still, we kept at it. And, by gum, we each reached the point where we could hop onto that rail and ride it right at least one time out of three.
But, time wasn’t on our side. I had places to be, promises to keep. So, back up the hill we went to session a bit on a box and to take on a jump or two. In the end, as I begged my leave and the falling snow began to accumulate into an enjoyable few inches of powder, Daddy Griff and Uncle Bill asked to be excused from class so they could "just ski without jumping."
Did this undertaking answer the not-so-compelling question, "Can three middle-age guys learn to huck jumps and ride rails?" Doubtful. But, it surely showed us how the other (younger) half lives.
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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.