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November 2008

A Walk in the Park

Here's a look at what customers will expect in your park this year.
Written by Katie Bailey | 0 comment

The major trends in terrain park design couldn't be any clearer this year: "junk" features are hot, hot, hot; natural features are holding steady; and progression remains a focus for most park managers.

It's an interesting year overall for park design. Last year, the industry wrung its hands about safety and liability and the trends reflected that, with more focus on jump design and cosmetic considerations. But this year, it really is all about the rider ("rider" meaning both skier and snowboarder). Progression, style and accommodating rider trends (style and substance over feats of derring-do) are reinvigorating a playful scene.

Straight from the lips of some of the nation's top terrain park designers and managers, here are the driving trends of the 2008-09 season.


Every single park manager this year cited "junk" features as the major trend of the season. If you aren't already on board with this trend, now's the time to consider it. The good news is that it is possibly the easiest (and cheapest) trend in terrain park history to follow.

Junk is a direct offshoot of the urban design influence, in which stairs, kinked handrails and wall rides remain central. Junk features are the icing on the cake.

What exactly goes into a junk feature? Any of the detritus of urban living: garbage can lids, chairs, stop signs, construction debris, pylons, car parts, barrels-if you can jib on it, it's fair game.

"We're doing a lot of features you can stall on, bonk, things like that," says Oren Tanzer, terrain park and youth marketing manager at Mammoth Mountain. "I think turning junk into a jib is the most popular trend right now. One of the reasons is because steel is really expensive. If you want to build a box, it can be a couple thousand dollars. Or, you can dip into your resort boneyard and pick up an old chair or something. We use all sorts of stuff. Everyday materials and everyday things. If you set it up properly and maintain it, it can be a great feature."

They're taking the trend to heart at Whistler Blackcomb, where park manager Brian Finestone is making the best of the Peak to Peak gondola construction (linking the two mountains) by collecting debris from the building sites, such as cable spools or leftover steel, and storing it for park use.

It's a strategy that plays directly into another major trend: variety. Kids these days, as everyone knows, are used to constant change and evolution. Smaller, junk-style features that can be easily set up, moved or stored are not only great for their lower cost, but because they can be switched in and out easily, says Finestone. "I like there to be something new in the park every week," he says. "Even if we're using basic features, just to combo them up in different ways in a different sequence or configuration-I think any change is good."

Ironically, it's important to keep the park looking neat and tidy even when it's full of "junk" features, says Jay Scambio, terrain park development manager for Boyne Resorts' Loon Mountain, Sunday River and Sugarloaf. The resorts take a lot of pride in their parks' appearance, says Scambio, even if there are unconventional features, like barrels or logs, included in the layout.


"Natural" features remain a hot trend in park design, bringing the vibe of the forest into the park itself. Burton really brought this trend to the mainstream with its Stash parks, which have now been expanded from Northstar-at-Tahoe to France, New Zealand and new this year, Killington. The trend has definitely hit the mainstream, and many park managers are using the remnants of summertime on-hill forestry to bank some features for winter. Finestone says one strategy he's found particularly effective-and much "greener"-is to use offcuts, or sections of bark from logged trees, for live-tree protection. For instance, building a ramp so that riders can jib off a tree, but covering that tree with a section of bark, serving the dual purpose of protecting the tree while keeping the natural theme going.


As was fairly clear coming out of last year, the popularity of hips and spines is definitely on the rise, thanks to their ability to allow multi-levels of riders to hit them safely. But jumps are not off the table (pun totally intended). All park managers we talked to at major resorts like Mammoth, Winter Park, Whistler Blackcomb, Snowmass and Boyne Resorts said they are focusing on building jumps right and building them smart.

One of the key tenets? Landings that are at least equal to or longer than takeoffs. Longer landings allow riders greater time to sort themselves out and reduce the chances of overshooting. Some are focusing on building smaller, mellower jumps. But there are exceptions: Mammoth, for instance, is expanding its high-level park for its most advanced riders, and that includes jumps. Isabelle Falardeau at Aspen-Snowmass reports that their "true table" style of jumps, as described last year in our park trends report, were a success, and they plan to continue the design this year.

In planning for the big launch of its new, 95-acre terrain park system, Carinthia, this year, Mount Snow park builders Elia Hamilton and Ken Gaitor say they are relying on their long-time experience to build jump lines that are safe and intuitive to the habits of riders.

"We recognize the short attention spans these days, and try not to force people to congregate in inappropriate areas, so we provide stopping points based on where people stop anyway," says Hamilton. "Putting more than four jumps in a row without a break can be too much for the day-to-day rider, so we break them up into pods. That way, kids can session features together and watch their buddies a few features at a time.

"Putting proper features in the right places is the basic goal of building for us, and the placement is arrived at via several factors: human behavior being number one and snow placement being number two."


Five years ago, the idea of park progression was really just hitting the mainstream. Today, almost every resort has a couple of distinct and different park areas at the very least, one with small features and the other a mix of intermediate to large. The bigger resorts will have as many as five or six. You can't go wrong with giving people a place to learn.

But at the forefront of design, the idea of progression has grown more nuanced. It's not just about small, medium and large parks. It's about the small steps in between. For example, you have an entry-level park. And in that park are three jumps. And those three jumps are a progression park in itself. The first is a bump. The second actually has an apex. The third perhaps has a small table element. That way, the rider gains confidence all the way through, and picks up a new skill on each feature all the way down the park. The same theory applies for rails and other features.

The idea of progression has been taken even further at Stratton Mountain, where the Ski and Snowboard School, in partnership with Burton, developed a new Kids Parkway last year. Made especially for little kids (even as young as three), it's a separate, small park on the mountain that is extremely kid-friendly. It highlights kid-sized manmade and snow features, tons of instructional signage, and even stop and go lights to control "traffic." The park is decorated with bright graphics and animations, and parents are encouraged to participate and cheer the kids on. "It was a huge success," says ski and snowboard school director Josef Jung. "It was just incredible. It was the most-visited of all of our parks last year."

Other resorts are doing similar little-kid ventures via small kid-friendly zones on the mountain. For example, Mammoth is setting up new Adventure Zones-featuring little bumps and hits in the trees-for kids to roll through with their parents, and Northstar has similar mini adventure zones as well.


These kid-oriented trends point to some very positive developments in terrain park design. For one, there is an increasing focus on the "next generation" of terrain park users. More and more resorts are focusing on acclimatizing young kids to terrain park etiquette and the specific skill set parks require. This, hopefully, will create a safer and more comfortable environment in the parks of the future.

Another is a more relaxed environment in parks. The presence of chilled-out, bonk-style features-whether they're made of junk or wood or whatever-slows the pace of the park down and allows riders to focus on their style, not just making it on and off the feature. It's a trend that's coming from the top down, says Bob Holme, terrain park and youth marketing manager at Winter Park, as pros want to get more creative with their tricks for photo and video shoots. The effect trickles down.

"The trend over past few years is that you're seeing terrain park features getting more playful and more varied," Holme says. "So, it's not necessarily about the biggest jump in the park that makes a park great; it's more about the variety of features, the variety of configurations, the variety of materials being used, and how to incorporate less traditional rail features and more untraditional street-style features. The playful nature of parks has really been a refreshing trend, not just last year but moving forward."

This is the year of fun, smart and safe parks. Make sure you're prepared to be a part of the next generation!