Who is Qualified to Certify Terrain Parks--A Ski Industry Veteran Speaks Out

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Publish Date

09/13/2011

UPDATE TO BLOG: This week's Blog Patrol is brought to you by John Rice, General Manager, Sierra-at-Tahoe.









Dear SAM,

In my original Speak Out I made a few assumptions that were factually 
incorrect, and I would like to apologize to USTPC and founding member Jim McNeil about them. To set the record straight: In my first 
point, I suggested that USTPC board members have testified in court 
against resorts. While research and published reports authored by 
board members have been cited by plaintiff's experts, the USTPC members 
have not engaged in litigation, and I stand corrected on this 
point. Following that, my assumption that founding members make
 part of their living in court was also incorrect. My knowledge 
that their work has been cited led me to erroneously assume that 
they were involved in litigation.

 I believe the current dialogue is healthy and will lead to further
 discussions that will help move the needle on best terrain park
 practices for the industry.


In light of the above information, I have amended points 1, 2, 4 and the final paragraph to reflect the information above.


***
September 13

There has been a recent flurry of emails originating from a group called the USTPC (United States Terrain Park Council) that purports to provide an "open, collaborative environment to promote research and education related to resort terrain parks." The organization claims to be able to "inspect and certify" terrain parks at resorts, for a fee. They further claim to be "litigation-neutral" and claim they bar their officers and board members from "voluntary participation in snow sport related litigation." The most recent email they claim to have "compiled the industry best practices into a 2 hour educational seminar." As a ski industry veteran of 35 years, pioneer of terrain park development, general manager of a resort, and expert witness/consultant, I have some very serious concerns about the true purpose of this organization's goals and objectives. Many ski industry stakeholders have similar concerns and believe that this organization needs a closer look. There are five areas that I feel need to be highlighted.

1) Some of the founding members are engineers, and have conducted studies regarding terrain feature design. These studies have been cited by expert witnesses in cases against resorts. Currently, ASTM is studying the proposals to create standards for terrain features. While the science debate will continue, it would be in the best interests of the industry to allow all sides to be heard in a neutral environment like ASTM. There are so many variables involved in terrain park use, it might be premature to accept a single point of view.

2) Many people in the ski industry question the experience of the members of the USTPC. It would be prudent for the organization to present their years of experience in design, construction and maintenance of terrain parks. My personal experience in this area is that everyone who has ever built a jump or jumped is an expert, or claims to be one. The years of on-hill experience, coupled with their background and understanding of the issues relative to terrain park use is key to establishing credibility. For a group to be able to "certify" a jump or park, it would be important to establish their credibility and experience prior to selling certification services.

3) The organization claims to be able to inspect and then certify terrain parks. While it is unknown what science the USTPC relies on to certify jumps through their SMART PARKS program, two of their board members have written position papers on what they would consider to be safe jump design. The science debate that currently exists between engineers centers on the ballistic physics model, and the effects of the human component on the outcome of a jump. Both sides have proposed theories supporting their position and do not agree with each other. There are hundreds of variables in winter sports, human variables and those of nature that skew ballistic models. When the human and environmental variables are ignored, engineering principles can be applied to predict outcomes. Skiing and riding, and even more so jumping, involves constant interaction of the user with the terrain, weather, gear and conditions. You cannot engineer these variables into a design and guarantee a safe outcome. (What cannot be refuted by engineering, however, is the fact that people who land on their head rather than their feet have a significantly higher chance of serious injury).

4) Plaintiff's experts claim to have created a safer jump design, and that resorts refuse to embrace their jump style. The jump design is referred to by some as a "turtleback" design or "mound style" jump. The criticism leveled at ski resorts in terrain park litigation centers on charges that resorts do not use engineered designs or standards, create design flaws, and rely on liability shield laws after accidents. I have not met a park designer or resort operator that doesn't hold guest safety at the top of their priorities. The turtleback jump design proposed by plaintiff's experts may reduce EFH, but does not guarantee safety. If a jumper lands on their head and/or neck instead of their feet, the turtleback jump is no "safer" than any other jump design.

5) As the sport has evolved, the generally accepted industry practices have evolved as well, and are available to the resort industry through a number of existing channels. The various associations that make up the US Ski and Snowboard Industry (NSAA, SIA, PSIA, NSP and USSST) have participated in the terrain park dialogue for years. Members of these associations have made significant contributions, participated in field studies, created education and awareness programs, attended seminars and workshops, and produced training and resource guides to communicate "best practices" to the ski resort operators who design, build and maintain terrain parks. The USTPC has not been part of any of these efforts, yet promotes itself as the source to "educate resort management and terrain park patrons as to the best practices in the industry." The first full time parks showed up at US resorts in the mid to late 1980s, and have gone through many changes through the last 25 years. While terrain park design and use is still following the natural evolution of a sport, much has been learned that has helped shape what are today's generally accepted industry practices. Those practices are currently shared among resort operators through regional NSAA seminars and roundtables, SAM's Cutter's Camp program, through various publications including the NSAA Freestyle Terrain Notebook and the PSIA/AASI Park and Pipe Instructor's Guide. There are also excellent resources available through 3rd party companies like Snow Park Technologies, who can bring resources to resorts who may not be up to speed on industry practices. Terrain park practices have been the topic of many panel discussions and presentations since the early 1990s.

It is in the best interests of the stakeholders of our industry to be aware of the resources available to make good decisions. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the organization's promises to keep resorts out of court, or be considered litigation neutral. Terrain Parks are an important part of the winter sports landscape, and all stakeholders will benefit from new information that can help resorts make informed decisions regarding park operations. I am not convinced that having parks certified by a third party benefits a resort, when there is so much unsettled debate regarding the issues. Perhaps the ASTM efforts to pull all the best engineering and operational information together will help. I am an advocate of getting the best information available to the table, and if the USTPC can participate in that through the ASTM, I welcome their input to that debate.

John A. Rice
Sierra-at-Tahoe \

Comments

realist

To Arn, Jen, Michele: Have you ever heard the old saying, "Don't poop in your own lunch box?"

And to the other founders who founded this nonsensical, feel-good, I-sound-smart venture... the ski industry is littered with "experts" who tried to to cash in on their hobby-passion through blackmail and sheer naivety. Get a life.

great point

Sounds like these people are experts against resorts and parks we have done fine with out this kind of criticism so far , I have been building parks for 18yrs and have seen the way the parks have evolved over the years and safety has been the upmost priority.

Parker

Thank you John for shining a much-needed light on this trojan horse!

Good Judgement

Got inspired, sorry, this will be long winded...

Only through understanding and experience can users of terrain parks learn to make good decisions. That said their is a tremendous amount of skilled and experienced managers, builders, coaches, and riders in our industry to learn from. The depth of experience and passion for this aspect of our sport is nothing short of amazing. Why would anyone take advice from a group of people who have none? What foolishness has inspired that group to offer up advice with no real data or actual hands on experience? The last thing we need to do is allow the least experienced so called "experts" drive the future growth of our sport in any way.

I work in the snowsports industry, I don't go to medical conventions and offer my "profound" views on the tragic state of medical care as an expert. Why? Because I'm not arrogant enough to think that I know why things are the way they are or what works in an industry that I know nothing about.

I love this industry and truly believe that those who would work to damage it through ignorant behavior like this should be ashamed of themselves. They work to hurt what we have worked so hard to build. Before an organization like that makes wild claims that it is possible to build a safe jump or that our industry doesn't take the safety of our guests seriously they should get their facts straight.

Before anyone rides a park they should truly educate themselves carefully and progress with caution and good judgement that way they can really enjoy the ride! They should also know that they are making a choice to ski or snowboard and choose each action they take on the mountain. Learn, progress, play is simple math in my book.

My parents taught me that I was responsible for my own actions, when did people stop having to be responsible for anything that they do?

Great letter John!
Thank you.

You da man Ricer

John,
Did not realize you could write a deep essay as well as you play guitar and sing.

As the designer of 350 mountain resorts, we leave the terrain parks to the guys on the ground every day.
Thanks

Thanks John

Thank you John, very well said. We need to keep areas aware of the long and short term ramifications of this group. You hit the nail on the the head. Hopefully they will expire like a snowflake in Texas

The Weather is here

wish you were beautiful.
Good work John

Response from the USTPC.

I am not sure where John Rice has received his information, but there is a lot of misinformation in that article.

I would like to touch on each of John's points 1 -5.

1). NOT ONE BOARD MEMBER OR FOUNDER HAS EVER BEEN AN EXPERT WITNESS OR LITIGATOR. That's right, not one. Although we are asked often to be Expert Witnesses in terrain park litigation, we turn them down every time! The USTPC is on the side of the Resorts, not on the plaintiff's side. We are not, nor have we ever, been in the business of suing resorts. The USTPC truly is trying to protect ski resorts from litigation and minimize the risks to the park patrons. Mont Hubbard is not a Board Member or Founder. We respect him as a scientist and partnered on that one presentation with him, but that is all.

2). Two of our Founders have been deeply involved in the Design and Construction of terrain parks at reputable resorts. This experience is useful, but remember, the UPTPC is not designing or constructing parks, but rather assisting designers and resorts in the physic and performance of said jumps. Lastly, 4 of the 5 founders have competed in Terrain Park events at a high level, and can still huck themselves off a jumps today. We have a very high level of practical on-hill experience and these grand assumptions are not only wrong, but dangerous.

3). Of course you cannot guarantee a safe jump John. There is always a high level of risk involved in terrain parks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try to design to the best practices possible.
Yes, you are correct, that there are a great deal of variables, but that doesn't mean that you cannot design for the majority of them. The Friction Coefficient for snow has a range. The amount a rider can pop has a maximum. Yes, this makes the design tricky, but it can still be taken into account. Hurricanes are very dangerous and can have an incredibly high wind, but we can design buildings on the coast of Florida to take them into account to a certain percent. We cannot design a building for every possible aspect, but what building codes have known for years is that you can at least design for a large majority of factors. We can do the same for terrain parks. Is it perfect, nope, but its better then not designing for them at all and throwing our hands up in surrender. What we are trying to accomplish is bringing both sides of the industry, Engineers and Designers, together to find some happy mediums.

4). Of course you cannot guarantee a safe jump, just like you cannot make a "safe" car. But, you can research and analyze as much information as possible to make some informed decisions'. That is the goal of the USTPC.

5). We totally agree. There are some amazing resources out there and the USTPC respects all of the work done throughout the years. Unfortunately the only actual physics research performed in the past has been done by Expert Witnesses in terrain park litigation and it has been marred severely to sway one way or another. That is exactly why the USTPC has taken it upon themselves to stay out of litigation. The resorts have been standing behind skewed physics and we just want to open the conversation up to everyone as it should be. Many of the people in the industry want to have closed door conversations, but we want to keep it as open as we can.

We completely agree that the riders should be completely responsible for their actions, but unfortunately there are lawyers who will look for any way to make their injured clients some money, and the USTPC is trying to protect resorts from those lawyers. Is that such a horrible thing?
The physics behind "minimized risk jumps" (we would never say that a jump is safe because throwing your body off a mound of snow at 30 mph will always have some level of risk and the intention is not to make a safe jump, but rather minimize the risks) is much more complicated than just matching taking off and landing. If you want to take a deeper look and even comment on the proposed physics, you can go to www.usptc.org and become a member to have access to the USTPC Criteria (yes, its $25, not really the pathway to riches, but we need to keep the site running).

If you have any questions regarding the USTPC, please just call or email before jumping to any conclusion and posting it for the world to see. We are here to help and although there are some grand misconceptions about our true goals, we are here to answer any questions.

Thanks,

Adrian 303.641.5181 or adrianw@smartparkscertified.com \

Physics or politics?

I certainly don't want to defend those guys, but, after looking at their presentation the only thing I take away from it is that the steepness of the landing area should be as close as possible to the angle of descent of the skier/rider. Gee, we don't need PhDs to understand that! Anyone five years old or more who has landed on a relatively flat surface knows that.

So, from a pure physics perspective it makes sense. Also, I didn't see anything that said that these guys wanted to actually design terrain parks, they were recommending that landing areas should be steeper.

But, from a politics perspective, I do think, though that the comment about "trojan horse" is accurate. If these guys are successful in getting the standards organization to adopt their methods then they have a pathway to riches.

President/GM

I appreciate and support your comments and postion. I have also been involved in the industry for 40 years. Bottom line skiing/boarding has an element of risk that cannot be eliminated and the individuals safety is their own responsibility. For us to try to assume that responsibility is fool hardy. No one can design a "safe" feature". This "new" organization serves no useful purpose to either park users or the industry.
Thanks for speaking out!

Rider

Amen, John! Who are they to come in and tell us how to do it. I've been building parks for over 13 years and have attneded Cutters Camp twice and attended NSAA shows. I think we know what we are doing.

not good

yeah, if anything like this becomes a reality, I will leave the ski industry after 12 years of managing and building parks.

Agree not needed.

Cutters Camp seems to have a good grip on it. Let the creativity keep gong in terrian parks.

Bad intentions

These "engineers" will ruin terrain parks, if they have their way. Creativity is the best part of terrain park design. There is no way to make all features safe to all users. We need a federal "take responsibility for your actions" law to minimize the power of the lawyers and their puppets.

Thank you

Thank you John for speaking up and so expertly stating what most of us are thinking. Hopefully their blackmail tactics will get them no where but out the door.

No thanks!

Well put John!
I think there are many Park Designers/ Managers out there that wanted to say something on this subject... but can't bring themselves to say anything nice about this group of... pawns.
\

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