Words & photos: Ethan Stone
So you've seen all the crazy footage and photos from Nine Knights, and now you want to build your very own jib castle? Hold your horses there partner—building a massive snow behemoth like this is no walk in the park. But just follow these 20 easy steps, and you'll be doing it like Nine Knights in no time.
Step 1: Find a mountain crazy enough to allocate massive funds towards snowmaking and snowcat hours for your project, a mountain like Mottolino in Livigno, Italy. Arrange to have a massive pile of 120,000 cubic meters of snow ready for the build when your team arrives on-scene. Keep in mind, the snowmaking effort will take all season to be ready for your event.
Step 2: Brainstorm with someone like Dirk Scheumann on a design. Dirk is co-founder and co-owner of Schneestern, one of Europe's top snowpark design companies. He will use his extensive snow-castle building experience (namely, every castle built for Nine Queens and Nine Knights) to come up with one of the craziest designs imaginable. And he won't just imagine it--he'll find a way to build it, too. This is a guy who lives and breathes snowparks.
Step 3: Build a team of some of the best park shapers in the world. If you want to go the Nine Knights approach, you'll pick an international alliance with shapers from Germany, Latvia, Austria, Italy, Belgium, and the USA. You want guys that arrive on the job with levels, angle gauges, measuring tapes, crampons, headlamps, and the best mountaineering boots money can buy, ready to work 12-18 hours a day for two weeks straight in all weather conditions. This isn't your average park crew job.
Step 4: Start digging. You've got a 120,000 cubic meter pile of snow to work with. You're going to move over half of it over the next few days.
Step 5: Get the right tools. You're going to need a few excavators of different sizes. You'll need chainsaws and snowblowers and a small fleet of snowcats, too. Make sure to get excavator operators who know how to work with snow. These guys can make your job really easy or really difficult, depending on how precisely they work and how they're feeling on that particular day. Try to keep the operators on your good side.
Step 6: Use your tools wisely. Countless hours can be saved by picking the right tool for the job. Don't spend an hour shoveling by hand what the excavator can do in 5 minutes. Work smarter, not harder. You're only a few days into the build, and you'll need your energy down the road.
Step 7: Keep an eye on the big picture. Work will be taking place in many different places at once, so organization is key. If you don't keep an eye on efficiency and economy, you may find yourself pushing the same pile of snow around the castle five different times with five different machines.
Step 8: Keep on digging. The vert shovel is starting to feel natural in your hands. You can start to eyeball your walls instead of measuring every meter. Grab a snowcat to help and get that wall done, because there's another one waiting right around the corner.
Step 9: Find creative solutions. Regardless of how well you've planned, you're going to run into some unexpected problems. Be ready to jury-rig fixes and use tools in ways they weren't intended. And don't hesitate to strap the snowblower to the excavator when you need to get it off the top deck.
Step 10: Dig till the sun goes down. This is when your headlamp and an extra pair of gloves really come in handy. Cut as fast as you can before the cold sets in—once it gets dark, that soft wall will turn to ice before you can say "che cazzo!"
Step 11: Double-check the plan. Any mistake you make will take costly hours to repair. Taking snow away is easier than putting snow back. An error or a botched measurement can have major consequences down the road, so try to get it right the first time.
Step 12: Check in your jumps in as early as possible. If any changes need to be made to any trajectories, you need to know as soon as possible to have time to make the changes.
Step 13: Remember to stop and enjoy the view. After a hard day of work, it's moments like this that make it all worth it.
Step 14: Did I mention that you need to keep on digging? Don't stop until you hit the ground.
Step 15: Throw in a tunnel for good measure. Why? Because you can.
Step 16: Plan in some extra days in case of bad weather. In the unlikely event of a huge snowstorm, get ready to shovel out your castle while everyone else goes freeriding. The life of a park shaper isn't always awesome after all.
Step 17: Give it some muscle. Walls of pure ice? Frozen bolts? Put your back into it. This castle ain't gonna build itself.
Step 18: Watch your step. As the walls grow higher and higher, a single slip can have disastrous consequences. So tread carefully, and try not to get run over by a snowcat.
Step 19: You're almost there. You just need to put in a few more night shifts. Bring a few extra pair of gloves and some food and water. You're going to need every last bit of energy to get the job done.
Step 20: You're done! Now sit back and enjoy the show. Oh wait, the day's session is over? Better start the re-shape. The castle needs to be in perfect shape for the shoot tomorrow, and that means every surface needs to be groomed either by hand or by machine. No rest for the weary--and you wouldn't want all of that hard work to go to waste!