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March 2016

From Obsession to Progression

There is a preoccupation in the park world with continually pushing to reach the next level. This notion has endured from a time when going bigger was better. But it’s time to treat our parks as a business, in which progression is the key to our success.

Written by Andrew Roy | 0 comment

In the early days of freestyle, simple features were warmly embraced. We were thrilled to find an old bench from the lodge dragged onto the hill. Then came the old guy in the grooming machine, who got a six pack of beer for building a jump late at night. That was so great!

Our roots are humble. No budgets, no special tools, and no helmets. Look at us now: million-dollar events, snowmaking piles the size of buildings, and athletes who are idolized like comic book heroes. It’s easy to see how this obsession developed so quickly.

When we build our parks, we want them to be the best. Every last detail is discussed during design sessions—speed, flow, where the urban section will be—it’s all very important. We shape the actual terrain that our guests pay money to use everyday, and a material like snow allows us to be creative.

But the urge that drives us to push the limits can also come back to hurt us. The desire to build the next greatest feature is one that is nearly impossible to shake. But shake it we must! The dawn of a new age of guests is upon us. These guests didn’t necessarily grow up with our passion, but caught a glimpse of it on television. We have to build differently for this audience.

The new guest is a fickle beast. He (or she) will show up to your resort and pay the ticket price, buy the food, and have après drinks. But he wants more—he wants to be taken care of. These new guests didn’t grow up knowing who Hannes Schneider was, nor do they have any idea who Tom Sims is. But they do know they are paying for your product, and they want their money’s worth.

This means that when a family of four is making their way down your hill and they come across a terrain park—with colorful rails of all shapes and sizes and chiseled jumps throughout—they’re going in. Why? Because they paid for it. They don’t care that they are jumping the sides of your rail takeoffs, or walking across the dance floor feature. Typically, they don’t know any better—and that’s where we can make a difference.

Progressive Education

The intro park is the crossroads. We have an opportunity to educate the modern resort guest there, because terrain parks are relatively new to them. And we should do this not just for their benefit, but for ours as well. Managing risk is a major part of our responsibility as park builders, and we have the opportunity to mitigate risk through education and progression.

The new guest wants the full mountain experience, including parks. The best way to give them that is by building freestyle terrain the whole family can use. While a learning park may not get you on the cover of a magazine, it can be a key component to the success of your park program.

An intro park should be built on a trail with a mellow grade that’s hikeable. The features should be your smallest boxes and flat rails, set only a few inches off the ground. Also include a couple of small jumps with easy landings. It should be a welcoming setup with zero intimidation factor.

Creating a well-designed learning park is equally as important as the signage and safety messages we display. The new signage is a great start, but a more interactive experience is needed to make sure our guests understand the information we are giving them.

Setting up the smaller features of an intro park can actually take up more of our time, but it’s well worth the investment. The X Games and Olympic athletes we build our prime features for had to start from square one, just like everybody else. It’s our job to ensure that square one is fun and attainable for everyone, and that we’re teaching the modern guest the proper way to use this terrain. We should provide them with a freestyle education—how to scan through the park on your first run, check out each feature up close, observe others, be aware of what and who is in the park, and always ask questions.

In this educational effort, our park crews may be the most vital piece. They are our on-hill freestyle ambassadors and ideally positioned to get information across to the guest. These men and women are seasoned veterans who can guide a family through a learning park and explain how to be safe, have fun, be respectful of others, and can also answer any questions the guests raise.

The goal of this push for freestyle education through attainable park features is to enhance the guest experience. When guests can go through your parks safely, using proper etiquette, they will come away with a more positive experience they can brag about to friends and family.

This approach is something we can quite literally build on the mountain and foster by paying attention. Ultimately, these guests are more likely to return to your resort, and to your learning and other parks, and bring their friends and family with them. That should be our true obsession.