A Freestyle Tradition: New Look For 2009
By Will Riseley
Stratton Mountain Resort in southern Vermont is home to a longstanding freestyle tradition. From the fledgling days of snowboarding and onetime resident Jake Burton’s quest to legalize and popularize the sport on the slopes of Stratton, the mountain has consistently pushed the limits in developing freestyle terrain and supporting its skiers and riders who enjoy spending much of their time in sliding, jibbing and putting some distance between themselves and the ground.
The halfpipe was really the first formal freestyle feature to be created at mountain resorts and Stratton can take credit for being the first east coast resort to boast the feature. Built for the 1988 U.S. Open Snowboarding championships, Stratton’s pipe was created in the offseason by digging into the dirt and excavating the pipe’s intended shape out of the ground. Park architect Lyle Blazedale quickly recognized many flaws in this design and before long had begun to use the modern technique of stacking snow into flattened areas above the walls, also known as decks, to the desired height and cutting the shape of the pipe from the center. By 1990, Stratton and Breckenridge were considered to have the two finest snowboard halfpipes in the world. Over the next eighteen years, Stratton’s pipes continued to grow and evolve as pipe cutting technology, snowboard design, and ability levels advanced. The pipe grew to twelve, then to fifteen, eighteen, to the now twenty-two foot high walls first introduced at the 2007 U.S. Open at Stratton!
Terrain parks, originally called “Snowboard Parks”, came along a little bit later with the first constructed features at Stratton happening around 1992. According to longtime Parks Manager Dave “Hooter” Van Houten who oversaw Stratton’s freestyle terrain from 1993 to 2004, the first features were located on the East Byrneside trail near the halfpipe and centered around a good size table top on the first pitch, two additional hits, and a flat rail.
Now it is the year 2009 and freestyle terrain has evolved significantly since the early days of park and pipe riding. Stratton currently boasts five traditional terrain parks of varying levels, a park through the woods using only natural features, and the recently opened 18 foot tall, 500 foot long halfpipe that is currently open to the public and will be the future site of the 22 foot superpipe for the 2009 U.S. Open. The mountain now boasts more than 40 total features and 23 unique features or set-ups.
Individuals who skied or rode at Stratton in years past will be pleasantly surprised with the significant amount of changes to the layout, location, and features in the revamped parks and pipes. The most significant differences will be that East Byrneside, not Suntanner, now hosts Stratton’s advanced park, and that Sunriser Supertrail in the Sunbowl area will be the home of the halfpipe.
Some may also notice a change in the flow, impeccably maintained features, and new style of Stratton’s parks. That can be attributed to Stratton’s new Snowboard School and Terrain Parks Manager, Tommy Morsch. Tommy grew up in western New York where he began as a snowboard instructor at Bristol Mountain in 1997. From there he became Snowboard School Supervisor and Terrain Parks Manager in 2002 where he worked until hired by Stratton prior to the 2008/2009 season.
When it comes to terrain parks, Tommy has a saying, “Smooth like marbles!” meaning “smooth takes offs, steep and long landings, good flow from feature to feature and from park to park. Progression is key and our team is dedicated to providing the best maintained features anywhere.” With hundreds of skiers and riders coming through every day, maintaining terrain park features is no small task and requires an early start and the utilization of a variety of tools and machines by Tommy, Parks Supervisor Zach Cole, and the rest of the Parks Crew in order to have them up and in great condition by the time the lifts begin spinning.
Progression is a key word when it comes to both individual features within a park and the progression of the parks at the resort. Within a single park, the progression of features and the smoothness of transitions can make all the difference in creating a quality park. With both safety and flow in mind, every terrain park at Stratton has been methodically and meticulously planned out, taking into consideration the shape and size of features, the pitch and length of landing zones, and the placement of the features to allow for multiple options for the users.
When it comes to progression of the parks themselves, Stratton boasts a terrain park designed to cater to different levels freestylers from novice to expert. Starting with the Learn to Ride Kid’s Parkway and moving into the large park on East Byrneside, there is a progression of size and difficulty of the features found within.
Freestyle Terrain at Stratton can be found on…
Learn to Freestyle Kid’s Parkway
Constructed in 2006, beginning skiers and riders will find the mountain’s smallest features perfect for learning how to hit a rail or catch air for the first time. Stratton partnered with Burton on this first of its kind park which is equipped with information on safety and proper technique to ensure maximum safety and fun.
Featuring small terrain features, Tyrolienne is one step larger than The Parkway, but not quite as big as Smoothie or Byrneside. Tyrolienne allows users to develop their freestyle game on manageable sized features. Skiers and riders will find an assortment of jumps, boxes and rails, moderately sized but not for the novice. Tyrolienne also served as home to Stratton's Cold War Series, an amateur free ski and snowboard competition series held under the lights.
The third park in the progression and Stratton’s medium sized park, Old Smoothie is not a park for beginners. Freestylers are encouraged to check out the new layout including a sweet hip and wall ride at the end.
Byrneside is Stratton’s large park and is designed for the experienced park rider. It features 2 jumps, a hip, two rails, a box, a culvert and a wall ride. If going big and jibbing like a villain is your thing, Byrneside will serve as your own little slice of paradise!
Where Stratton’s parks go au naturale. Jib, hits, rails all made from mother nature’s bounty. For a more organic freestyle experience not designed for novices.
Betwixt/ Beeline Rail Garden
The place for rails and boxes. Beeline rail garden is located just off the top of the AMEX lift and provides a nice little warm up before riders head down to the larger parks.
After a little hiatus, Stratton is bringing back the superpipe! This monster will be located in the Sunbowl on the Sunriser Supertrail and is scheduled to open the week of February 8th. 18 feet high and 500 feet long, this is the future site of the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in March!
The parks are not the only thing to change this season, there is also a new protocol for gaining entrance into them. Stratton’s longstanding and award winning SES (Safety Education Sessions) have now moved online. Visit http://www.stratton.com/ses, watch the short video, answer the questions correctly, print out and fill out your form, and present it to the Stratton ticket counter. Individuals without a SES pass will be prohibited from entering ANY Stratton terrain park or halfpipe.
Visitors to Stratton this season should make a point to check out all of the hard work that has been put into building and maintaining Stratton’s highly regarded parks and pipes. Thanks to the hard work of Tommy Morsch, Zach Cole and the Parks Crew, Stratton groomers and snowmakers, the Stratton safety team, and more, skiers and riders looking to leave the ground behind will be pleasantly surprised with the high quality freestyle terrain at Stratton in 2009.
Stratton is also the site of the 27th annual Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, featuring the world’s best riders, from March 16-22. Stay tuned for details on snowboarding’s best event!