How to Learn to Huck? The Mini-Park!
By Mitch Kaplan
Remember the young child's perspective? Remember when you stood at the bathroom sink and thought it was as high as a skyscraper tower? When you needed a stool to reach the silverware drawer and a booster seat to eat lunch?
Imagine then what a small child sees when s/he looks at a superpipe or a twenty-foot hit with a thirty-foot gap.
What happens to that kid's brain is something akin to what happens to yours when you stare at a mogul field filled with car-sized bumps set on a thirty-degree pitch. You freeze. Then you think: "How's a non-expert supposed to learn to ski/ride these things?"
You're not. Nor is your eight year-old supposed to handle the superpipe. That's why we've become such big fans of the small terrain park, or so-called mini-park. I mean, a body's got to start somewhere, yes? You don't get your feet wet by hucking pipes with twenty-foot walls.
Of course, there's always the do-it-yourself jump. As long as there have been ski areas, kids have been finding natural jumps - or building them themselves. I well remember Dan, my eldest, catching "little air" with his friends at Vermont's Pico Resort by launching off a doghouse-sized pump house. Other times, they could be seen using their snowboards as shovels to create trailside hits at Mountain Creek. Young males may be fundamentally wild (nuts?), but they're creative.
Still, the advent of major terrain parks and superpipes leaves smaller children and less skilled kids behind. They want the same kind of fun. On their own scale. I do, too, actually. Who's to say that a middle-aged dad doesn't want to take to the air, to thrill to the feeling of flight, or even maybe to turn a small trick or two? We do.
So, what do we air-grabber-wanna-be's to look for? A place that has committed itself to the entry level park. If you're not sure, give a call to the ski area you've got in mind, or visit their website. Entry level parks should be sited on green-rated runs. You don't want the basic snowsliding to be too steep. They should be fairly short in length; limiting the length, and by implication the number of hits, allows you to try jumps without becoming overwhelmed. The hits themselves should be small, but well groomed and maintained as thoroughly as the hits in the big parks. If there are rails, etc., they should be short and quite low to the ground. And, for my money anyway, they should be sited somewhere that's not too much in the public eye. Who wants to be on display when learning?
Another strategy for finding diminutive parks: look to smaller ski areas. The park at Snowshoe in West Virginia, for example, isn't considered mini, but it's not so large that novices and littler guys can't drop in there. At Ski Santa Fe, I've spent many runs chasing young, low-intermediate level skiers through the terrific Adventureland trail. It's narrow, but the natural winding and contours present a park-like series of rolls and banked turns. Sunshine Village, up near Banff, has a pair of trails that resemble halfpipes - and they had them long before the halfpipe was invented.
Last, but far from least, there's the natural terrain park. These can be found at almost any snowsliding site. Often a bit of searching is required the, but sometimes the natural ride is right in front of your eyes. At Steamboat, for example, the green-rated Why Not trail backtracks on itself with nifty, single-track whoop-de-doos carved into its uphill wall (see "Steamboat, Why Not").
If your children are hell-bent to become cool park rats, and your favorite or local snowsliding center doesn't afford them a beginner's park, speak up. The area's management will only know there's a need/demand for a novice park if customers tell them so. "The industry trend is moving towards providing parks for all riding abilities," Christopher Nicholson, communications guru at Whistler Blackcomb told me. And, all the anecdotal evidence indicates that if they build it, kids will come. That's good news for everyone. Because nobody except Super Boy wants to start out by leaping tall tabletops in a single bound.
Here are some major resorts at which we've encountered mini-parks or mini-pipes.
Blue Mountain Resort (www.bluemountain.ca): Three smaller sites are located on various sections of the hill. A halfpipe sits on the southside. A terrain garden with beginner features is located in the center section. The north end has an intermediate park that introduces sliders to table tops, rails and spine jumps.
Brian Head (www.brianhead.com): The resort has a number of parks. The Beginner Park at Navajo Run holds five rollers, two beginner table tops, an intermediate jump and a ten-foot rail. The Chair 3 Beginner/Intermediate Park has nine rollers, a pair of beginner jumps, a hip, a spine, an intermediate jump and a picnic table jib.
Sunday River (www.sundayriver.com): Minipipe on South Ridge is a one-eighth size replica of SR's superpipe, with eight-foot walls and a gentle slope. Starlight Terrain Park on Lower White Cap is a long park with mid-sized elements, including tabletops and rails. American Express on Spruce Peak has medium-sized booters, rails and boxes.
Killington (www.killington.com): Timberline Park on Ram's Head's Timberline trail has five small tables and two mini-rails, including a two-foot high mini-rainbow. Learn-to-Fly Weekends are offered by the ski school for intermediate snowboarders who want to learn how to ride halfpipes and parks.
Mount Snow (www.mountsnow.com): Grommet, a scaled-down park, was specially designed for 12-and-unders. Adults and teenagers are permitted in Grommet only when accompanied by a child!
Telluride (www.tellurideskiresort.com): Sprite Air Garden Terrain Park is actually a huge affair - ten full acres - but it's big enough to offer beginner hits and rails.
Breckenridge (www.breckenridge.com): Gold King Terrain Park, located on Peak 9, offers small to medium-sized hits and features aimed specifically at less experienced riders.
Mammoth Mountain (www.mammothmountain.com): Long known as the epicenter for what's new and hot in So Cal, Mammoth boasts three HUGE parks. The good news is that they have a kid-friendly area at Canyon Park. Also big fun is the Bordercross at South Park, just off the Roller Coaster chair.
Mt. Bachelor (www.mtbachelor.com): The Air Chamber is their main park; it covers a full-width, top-to-bottom run adjacent to the Skyliner Express lift. Small features have been sculpted near the bottom of Sunshine Accelerator for folks at a learning level.
Whistler Blackcomb (www.whistlerblackcomb.com): The Terrain Garden, located in the Catskinner Chair zone beside the Children's Adventure Park on the Big Easy run, is specifically designed for learning to use park features. It features smaller rails, rollers and mini hits. The GAMECUBE Chipmunk Park is the next step after the Terrain Garden. Located on Chipmunk and accessed from Jolly Green Giant, it's rated intermediate and includes a variety of rollers, hip jumps and jibs including a long fun box, wide rainbow rail and a wide step down rail. The Snow Cross track is accessed off skiers right of the main GAMECUBE terrain park. It's a permanent recreational course featuring banked turns, rollers, step up jumps, etc., that's great for intermediates to expert.
Squaw Valley (www.squaw.com): Squaw boasts three parks (with lots of action), the best one for families and beginning hucksters is the Belmont Beginner Park. It has lots of easy rollers and features to start out on, plus a dedicated lift.
...... 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.