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September 2012

Blue Pages :: September 2012

STATE OF THE ART MYSTERY: ASTM LOOKS AT PARK RESEARCH... AND NSAA TALKS "PROGRAM..." U.S. OPEN LEAVES STRATTON FOR VAIL... GOING BOLDLY WHERE NONE HAVE BEFORE... PARK CITY WILL HAVE A SEASON, AFTER ALL... INCIDENT REPORT FORMS GO DIGITAL... SHORT SWINGS

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STATE OF THE ART MYSTERY: ASTM LOOKS AT PARK RESEARCH. . .
There are two groups working to define the state of the art in terrain park design, and both are hamstrung by a combination of politics and procedure.

The relatively new Freestyle Terrain Park Jump Features Task Group of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Snowsports Committee F27 is moving at the very deliberate pace ASTM follows. At its summer meeting July 17-18, several researchers presented their findings. Two of the most ambitious: Mont Hubbard’s open-source software for terrain park design and Jim McNeil’s proprietary Jump Measurer equipment and complementary Jump Analyzer software.

One small holdup: neither of these programs has been tested onhill, or against the years of experience and knowledge gained at terrain parks nationwide. So they remain largely theoretical.

Will that change soon? Not unless resorts decide to trust the two researchers. Hubbard is widely known for his expert testimony on behalf of plaintiffs and against resorts. McNeil is a founder of the U.S. Terrain Park Council, which was widely resented when it tried to launch its own certification program a year ago. Each has a long way to go to gain resorts’ trust. And without the ability to test their hardware and software in actual parks, they are stymied.

ASTM is often the common ground upon which trust gets built. But it is frequently a slow process.


. . .AND NSAA TALKS “PROGRAM”
At the same time, NSAA has been providing some degree of information and advice--dare we call it education?--to terrain park builders since 2000, when it released its “Terrain Park Resource Guide.” This was revised in 2004 as the “Freestyle Terrain Resource Guide” and in 2008 as the “Terrain Park Notebook.” An informal committee is now considering an update for the upcoming season. The result is likely to be an online “program.”

Among the topics under consideration: adding specific feature design considerations to the general design considerations in the current document, and revising the section on signage and education, for both employees and guests. Participants in the process emphasize that the information in the current document remains valid, but given what has been learned in the past four years, there is simply new information to share.

At the same time, the group is taking pains to make sure that any information it shares has been completely vetted. That especially applies to feature design. Though the feature considerations under review have been widely used and refined in leading parks for years, NSAA could decide to subject them to scientific analysis this coming season. That would delay any specific advice about feature design for another year, at least.

With both ASTM and NSAA moving with deliberate caution, park design and construction this winter will continue as they have for 20 years or so. That is, resorts will apply what they have learned about building for their own particular hill and customers, informed by whatever additional ideas they can gain from educational outlets such as Cutter’s Camp and NSAA.


U.S. OPEN LEAVES STRATTON FOR VAIL
We’ve seen this story before: Eastern (or Midwestern, or Mid-Atlantic) area launches a cool event, which then moves to a marquee Western resort once the event hits the big time. The X Games comes to mind, and now the Burton US Open.

And why wouldn’t you want to host the Open in Vail? Vail’s got cachet, not to mention a larger arena, tons of lodging, one of the best-known and most popular resort villages, and more reliable weather.

The question for small and mid-sized areas is, what are you going to do next? When you’re not number one, you have to try harder. Innovations like reggae festivals, snowboard competitions, and mud racing all started at small or midsized areas. Not to mention the X Games and the US Open.

Weather can often plague these ventures, but that just adds to the lore. "It was so cold our boards wouldn't move on the snow." Embrace the challenge--weather helps build the legend. The ultimate compliment comes when the big guys want in on it.


GOING BOLDLY WHERE NONE HAVE BEFORE
Vail Mountain’s comprehensive proposal for summer activities--first of its kind following passage last fall of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act--should get a warm welcome from the Forest Service, as it adopts a “learn through play” philosophy that mirrors that of the Forest Service itself. The Vail plan for “Epic Discovery,” as the proposal is dubbed, intersperses interpretive centers on forest health, wildlife, and mountain geography throughout the proposed activities and facilities.

To lend even more green cred to its efforts, Vail plans to work with its frequent partner, The Nature Conservancy, to bring scientific content to the eco-discovery experiences. In addition, Forest Service Rangers will be on site to provide eco-educational experiences.

But Vail isn’t forgetting the activities themselves. Among the proposed items:

• Three-hour guided tours with ziplines and aerial bridges in Game Creek and on the front side of Vail, and a multi-stage challenge tour at Adventure Ridge. There will also be a separate playground of rope challenges and bridges for younger kids.
• Expanded hiking and biking trails, and guided Segway tours
• Forest Flyer mountain coaster
• Game Creek Deck and Lookout Tower

Even more significantly, Vail Resorts plans to develop similarly themed Epic Discovery programs for each of its seven resorts. That alone will kick-start the expansion of summer operations on the National Forest.


PARK CITY WILL HAVE A SEASON, AFTER ALL
Park City Mountain Resort’s 2012-13 season became a lot more certain after leaseholder Talisker said publicly that it had privately assured PCMR, way back in April, that the resort would be able to open for the upcoming season. But that hardly spans the gulf between the two parties on the future of Park City’s lease.

No one knows exactly how large that gulf is. However, we’re sure it’s big. Public records reveal that PCMR has been paying $155,000 a year. In contrast, Canyons, just a few miles down the road, leases its land from a hodge-podge of landowners for about $3 million. Since Talisker owns Canyons, it has been dealt a doubly bad hand: it receives a low rent from PCMR, and pays a high rent itself.

We can understand why Park City wants to extend its old terms, and also why Canyons might insist on an increase to a rate that was set 40 years ago. But clearly, something’s got to give.

Problem is, there’s little uniformity in lease terms across the country. According to the most recent NSAA Economic Analysis, the average resort lease is about $500,000. But there are many areas that pay less rent than Park City has paid in the past, and some that pay more than Canyons does currently. No wonder the two sides have been negotiating, without agreement, for nearly three years.


INCIDENT REPORT FORMS GO DIGITAL
With all media going digital in one way or another, it was only a matter of time before resort incident reports would go digital, too. Trail Check software went through beta testing last winter in Vermont and New Hampshire, at Bolton Valley, Mad River Glen, and the Dartmouth Skiway, and is now set to enter the mainstream.

Traditionally, of course, incident reports have been set down on paper, usually scrawled in hard-to-read handwriting. Digital reports can be easier to read and review, which makes it easier to identify gaps and omissions and correct them. They also make it easier to identify incident trends, track injuries in a variety of ways, and overall provide more information and analysis. Naturally, in a litigious world, the program also includes a signature capture capacity.


SHORT SWINGS
As the board of selectmen for the town of Killington, Vt., were brainstorming how to draw more residents to town, selectman and businessman Bernie Rome made a modest proposal: offer free college tuition to families who move there. More students, he says, would lead to more school funding and contribute to the tax base. Green Mountain College is located in town, along with 3,000 second homeowners. . .Eagle Point resort in Utah aims to draw customers from Califormia, but it’s not easy to compete with the media muscle of the Tahoe resorts and Mammoth. So Eagle Point is offering free skiing, all winter long, to any and all Californians.