It's Terrain Park Safety First at Canada's Blue Mountain Resort
by Mitch Kaplan
Dan, my eldest, came to me with his metaphorical tail between his legs. "Dad," he said, "I got my ticket clipped."
"Why?" I asked, knowing I knew the answer.
"Jumping. I got caught jumping."
He sighed, then responded without irony. "On that main run? You know, by the sign that says, ‘No Jumping'."
Face it - kids will jump. They will grab air, big or small, at any opportunity. They love it. They love it almost to the point of being unable to help themselves. 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 bumps and objects in the snow has become a gathering of huge constructions, enormous gaps and deep pits called superpipes bordered by twenty-foot walls. With that evolution has come another set of problems - injuries.
Up in Ontario, Canada, the folks at Blue Mountain have embraced the trend towards large parks. But, says the resort's risk management man, Brian Edwards, "We had been gradually seeing an increase in accidents as parks got more popular. We realized we had to do something to reduce accidents, find some other way of operating a park. In part, there were too many beginners and one-time users in the park, so at the end of the 2000 season we sat down with our operations guys and talked about ways to tackle the problem."
Their answer: a park pass program. Here's how it works. Riders must attend a park orientation at the resort's Safety Center. Those under age 18 must have a parent attend the session and sign a waiver. A $10 fee must be paid. Riders who had a pass in the previous season must complete a park pass review quiz, which is mailed during the fall. They bring the completed quiz to the Safety Center, accompanied by a parent if they're under 18, and pay the fee.
"A lot of places have a separate park pass and require a signed waiver," notes Edwards. "But, we wanted to provide an educational component, in an effort to acknowledge that terrain parks have risk."
Blue's orientation program consists of a twelve-minute video entitled "Respect" that focuses on respecting yourself, the environment and the other people you're riding with, plus additional programming about helmet use, and a general, pro-active safety message that focuses on educating terrain park users.
Says Edwards, "The whole program is about half an hour in length. About ten thousand people went through it last season, and we ended up seeing a reduction of about sixty percent in accidents. The program is here to stay and it's doing the job."
This season the resort purchased a portable building in which to house the Safety Center, and has staffed it with full-time employees. The ten dollar pass fee helps to defray the cost of staffing the Center, as well as the additional costs of maintaining a high-end park. Pass holders get discounts at many resort retail and food outlets.
The creation of non-expert parks also helps improve terrain park safety, according to Edwards. Blue has three of them: a halfpipe on the south side; at mid-resort stands a "terrain garden," a park that holds what Edwards calls "beginner-ish features that are intended to get people feeling of air without big air because they're low to ground and have rails that are bigger in diameter"; on the north end is an intermediate park that introduces sliders to table tops, rails and spine jumps.
"The lower end parks are as important if not more important than the advanced park because they provide a progression," says Edwards. "It's crucial that we make that available to people so they can learn gradually. It's just like having green runs."
Kids under age eight are not permitted in Badlands. The age was chosen to parallel the required age to enroll in the resort's freestyle lessons.
"Has there been any negative response to having a pass or to paying extra for it?" I ask him.
"Initially, when people first hear about it," he responds. "But, even the most hardened riders come out of program thinking it's good. We've got a lot of our high-end riders behind it, which helps. And it takes less skilled riders out of park and out of harm's way while it gives advanced riders more space."
Parents, he adds, love the program. In fact, parents of kids under eighteen are not only required to sign the waiver, but they must be present at the orientation, so they understand what a terrain park is all about. "In some cases," Edwards notes, "parents look at their kid and say, ‘He's not quite ready.'"
Meanwhile, Blue's terrain park accident rate is tracking downwards. Which is a good thing. Kids will jump no matter what, and Blue seems to have found a way to make it as safe as possible without devaluing the cool factor.
...... 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.