New School Skiing
When Jake Burton first invented the snowboard in 1977, the entire snow driven industry would forever be revolutionized. The sport of snowboarding was born, and as a result, an entirely new identity took to the powder capped peaks of the world. Snowboarders brought a new demand to the snow, the demand for adrenaline. The pasty white rolling hills did not satisfy this crowd, a surf and skate influenced group, whose demands resulted in the terrain park. This area, a designated zone filled with stunts, arrived at mountains soon after snowboarding became popular. Snowboarding was not the only sport that was shaped by the park. The sport of skiing shifted in hugely because of these parks, a shift that entirely revolutionized the skiing process. The sport of skiing seemingly followed in the footsteps of snowboarding, bringing about new tricks, new ski technology, and a new mindset that was brought to the slopes. This transformation of the sport almost re-created it, as it brought a new element of freedom to the sport not seen in the traditional style. Nowadays, skiers are taking to the air like helicopters, spinning in every direction. Ski companies have originated to meet the ever-so-increasing ski demand for the terrain park. Thus, skiing has truly changed for the better over the past decade ever since the terrain park was introduced.
Without the terrain park, skiing is still a very intense sport. The freedom created by having a mountain at ones disposal, filled with natural rollers and powder, with an occasional cliff, is a freedom not seen in most modern day activities. In the past, the natural topography of a mountain or hill determined its validity, where a mountains geological terrain was all that it could offer to fill the adrenaline needs of skiers. Skiers seeking a rush had to resort to pure speed to fulfill their desires, with the occasional drop or natural jump as the thrill of their day. By all means, skiing in this way is fun and indeed a rush, yet once a drop or a jump has been done, there is little means to progress from the original stunt. The sanctified activities before the terrain park were only two events, alpine racing and freestyle moguls. Racing consisted of a course filled with red and blue gates, where the skiers could wind their way through the course, racing against the clock on a usually icy slope. Racing demands perfection, as one-thousandth of a second can be the time gap from first to second place. Moguls consisted of a course filled with Volkswagen size bumps down a run with two wedge shaped jumps in the middle. The tricks done in the moguls lacked style and were very limited. Inverted aerials, such as flips, were banned, limiting the progression of the sport. As well, landing in moguls caused many injuries to participants. Both racing and moguls had heavy restrictions and didn’t allow the skier much room to progress, as skiers from both sects were found in the terrain park soon after its inception.
The park itself is one of the most intimidating yet inspiring zones on the entire mountain. By utilizing the snow-cat, a snowplow with tank-like treads, ski resorts can push snow into sizable features that can propel terrain park riders high into the mountain air. With these snow-cats, the same corduroy that adorns the intermediate runs can be found in the terrain park and on all of the features. The most prominent feature in the terrain park is the jumps. Jumps range in length from three to infinity feet and can be found in several different configurations. Tabletop jumps are the most commonly found jump in the park. They consist of an upward sloping ramp, a flat section which bridges the distance to the landing, a downward sloping ramp which returns the rider safely to the ground. Gap-type jumps, the other style of a jump, consists only of an upward sloping ramp takeoff and a downward sloping landing ramp, and with no flat surface in between, in which coming up short can result in dire consequences. The next item that is found in terrain parks are jibs. A jib defines any man made item in the terrain park that is used as a stunt. Rails, the most common jib, can be seen in nearly every park in the nation. These rails are made out of metal bars that curve and kink in every which way. Jib boxes, items with a Lexan top sheet that acts as a wide rail, ranging from six inches to three feet wide, can also be found in most of our nation’s terrain parks. Select mountains install wall-rides, ordinary garbage cans, and other creative items to offer riders a unique arrangement of terrain stunts to choose from. Mountains that collect copious amounts of snow may install a half-pipe, a ditch that has curved walls that reach vertical measures which launches riders into the air. Fine ski resorts will include all three elements into their terrain parks, which are becoming a major attraction at most resorts nationwide.
With the terrain park came change in nearly every element of skiing. Ski resorts without copious natural terrain could gain validity with a breathtaking terrain park. The actual skis have changed in unfathomable ways to suit the needs of skiers in the terrain park. Additionally, the tricks done on skis have increased exponentially with all the new jumps and jibs offered that propel skiers skyward. The overall skiing mindset has changed, where video footage, ski crews, and apparel are now increasingly popular factors within the sport. As well, terrain park inspired skiing has shifted where skiers can go with the sport, as urban rails have shown this new side of the sport in areas such as the Bronx in New York. This change has provided to be unbelievable beneficial in a number of ways in the sport. The part has brought much new revenue into the sport, as it now attracts teenagers seeking thrill, and the money that accompanies them. Only a few terrain features can keep skiers entertained for days on end, as whole mountains can become boring within a few weeks of riding them. Who would have ever expected that this snowboarding-influenced institution would shape nearly the entire culture of skiing?
The terrain park has not only driven the sport of skiing to progress, it has also driven the ski industry. Until terrain parks became common attractions at ski resorts, the natural terrain determined the legitimacy of a ski resort. Mountains in Colorado, Utah, and California dominated the industry simply because of the vertical feet offered and elevation of their location. Nowadays, mountains with limited natural terrain could make up for that with a thrilling terrain park.
Proper terrain-park management can help level the playing field between small resorts and big ones. The vertical at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, New Jersey, is less than 1,000 feet, but with five terrain parks and three dozen rails, the resort can hold its own with the best in the East (Bie 23).
This new growth of terrain park has benefited skiing largely in popularity. Skiers in Minnesota can access mountains that were previously shut down which re-opened with a terrain park. “Unlike major resorts, which need large amounts of snowfall to open, terrain-park areas require only a skin of snow” (Tolme 33). In Southern California, Big Bear Mountain opened with a terrain park in the early ninety’s, since the mountain doesn’t have much to offer naturally. Currently, the terrain park has engulfed every run on the mountain, which has proven to be popular. The park has made this newer style of skiing available to a multitude of people, since they can open nearly anywhere with snow.
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), of the 300 largest resorts in the country, 239 of them now have terrain parks. "The number has at least doubled in the last five years," says Tim White, director of education for the NSAA. "And it's clearly a result of resorts trying to keep up with the competition" (Bie 23).
With this growing trend, I would expect to see terrain parks at every mountain in the United States within the next few years.
The terrain park has influenced skis to adapt to new conditions that the jumps and jibs demand. Skis in themselves progressed in the 1990’s without the park, switching from a completely straight ski to a parabolic ski, a ski that is wider in the tip and tail. This type of ski allowed for much easier carving, where simply pressuring the toe of the boot would initiate a turn. Skis that came from the terrain park took this technology and added a tip to the rear of the ski, allowing for the skier to go both forwards and backwards. With this, skiers could go off a jump, land a jump, go onto a rail or off of a rail both forwards and backwards. Trick possibilities became endless, as anything could be done backwards. This allowed for even more progression, as it took much skill to perfect this riding ability. Just the twin tip alone is an innovation that doubled the skill required in skiing, as skiing backwards down the mountain is a challenge in itself. Skiing changed for the better due to these skis, which allowed for so much more freedom. Upstart ski companies such as Armada catered to this new niche. In 2003, Skiing magazine published an article on this new company.
Armada ramps up for its first full year of production, delivering pairs of twin-tip AR5's and ARV's to specialty shops this month, people in the industry are wondering: Can a company founded by a handful of skiers with sagging pants survive in the cutthroat ski business? (Willoughby 41).
Yet today, at the end of 2006, Armada is the name associated with new school style skiing. They produce the most coveted product, and their team consists of some of the best riders in the globe, such as Tanner Hall who won the X-Games in ’06 and T.J. Schiller who won the U.S. Open in ’06. Today, a handful of producing only twin-tip skis have been created and have been profitable in this expanding industry.
The largest benefit that the terrain park has brought to skiing has been the ability to do tricks. Every feature in the park offers endless trick possibilities, such as rails boxes, and jumps. In the past, skiers had to be content on the sloped runs that were offered. Nowadays, trying to perfect a 360, a full rotation of the skier in the air, can take weeks. A single rail in the park may take thirty attempts to successfully complete. As well, a number of technical ski grabs are another airtime element. With this comes a sense of self-satisfaction that cannot be found anywhere else on the mountain. Managing to slide down a double kinked rail fully is a feeling that is paralleled by no other feat in skiing, other than landing a 540 in the park. This is all happening in the park while average skiers cruise down the same old run, unknowing of this institution sending skiers into the air. By having an added element of perfection, time seems to just fly by, as skiing is elevated from a sport to an art form.
Ski tricks are something that few witness. The stunts are unbelievable, as spinning or flipping once or even twice is a feat that is very risky and only successfully landed by a few. Thus, taking video footage to capture these tricks has been another element of skiing that grew from the park. Skiers can be seen filming each other to take footage on a regular basis, as this footage is crucial to their skiing careers at a certain skill level. Videos edits made of footage collected is the way most that amateur skiers obtain sponsorship, which leads to other huge benefits. Thus, a skill of cinematography is an acquired by using a camera so frequently. Personally, I filmed nearly every day last year, and the movie my crew created, “Much of Anything,” has been a talked about movie on nationwide online forums. The skill I attained from filming skiing was helpful in my film class in high school, where our movie won our schools film festival. The filming is another item that really makes skiing more of a process than simply a hobby, and this has been change for the good.
The new mindset that accompanied the terrain parks was highly beneficial. You may think, skiing is skiing, whether it is in a terrain park, racecourse, or groomed runs. Yet the terrain park brought another completely different attitude towards skiing. Racing had a mindset of time. How fast one could get down the hill was the only thought racers contemplated while skiing. People skiing groomed runs would count their daily runs, and that is what measured their skiing quality. Yet in the park, the mindset is much more laid back. Skiers clump together and ski in ‘crews,’ Skiers that were in other crews often would compete with rival crews on the mountain. This was another form of progression, as one crew would do tricks that would result in the other crew trying to learn them and catch up. As well, the culture was of the hip-hop style, with baggy pants sagging down, oversize jackets, extremely large headphones, doo-rags, and basketball jerseys. On any given day in the park at Mammoth Mountain, skiers without jerseys are in the minority. Yet skiing in these crews was the best thing to hit skiing. Members within crews encourage other members to learn new tricks, try new lines, and other items. The support was there. For example, when I was trying to learn 0 spins, a trick that involves taking off the jump backwards and landing backwards, without facing forward throughout the air, I was very intimidated. Yet my boy KC, a fellow member of the D Crew, gave me some pointers, then did the trick over the jump I was going to attempt. I followed, and after visual and audio instruction, landed the trick perfectly. If I was alone, without any coaching, there is no way I would attempt anything of that sort. As well, a crew sticks together in the park. One person will hit a stunt, stop at the bottom, and the crew will follow. This precautionary item follows the Ski Areas Associations new “Smart Style” terrain park guidelines. “Look before you leap, Easy style it, Respect gets respect” (McDougal 47). The crew has benefited skiing greatly, as they continue to push each other to progress in tricks while looking out for each other’s safety.
Terrain park skiing may only seem limited to the terrain park, but current athletes are progressing the sport into new areas where terrain park inspired skiing would seem unlikely. The first place terrain park inspired tricks have infiltrated the backcountry. Natural features that propel the skier into the air, such as cliffs and natural jumps are being spun off of both forward and backward into powder. Terrain park skiing has taken ordinary natural features and created a whole new mindset to ski them. Creative skiers build kicker jumps into powder, which offer a unique feature that can allow for tricks. This has benefited skiing greatly, as the rest of the mountain still can be utilized for trickery as the terrain park can. The next location that skiing has gone is one of the least likely fathomable. Urban environments with handrails that can be slid are a popular form of skiing nationwide. Snow can be brought to these features, allowing skiers to grind extremely challenging rails that are not found in the park. Skiers have been taken from the handrails at ski resort lodges to the St. Michaels Observatory in Montreal, and everywhere in between. This has allowed for skiers in Ohio and Nevada, states with no snow, to stay entertained when they cannot make the trip to the local ski hill. Skiing, in this format, has taken skiing from an elitist sport that had to cost hundreds of dollars to an activity where only a handrail and a patch of snow are required, sans lift tickets.
The major issue with the growth of the terrain parks is the injuries and the attitudes that come from the terrain park. The terrain park has allowed for much room to experiment with tricks an air, yet only the finest skill is required to actually survive. Coming up short onto a rail can result in a concussion of a blown knee. Simply taking off a jump the wrong way can land you on your head, back or face in no time. In regards to jump length, coming up short or landing too far away can have dreadful results. “Last March when he (Simon Dumont) fractured his pelvis in the Utah backcountry after overshooting a tabletop landing by 100 feet” (Hansen 61). Yet on an average day in the park, one rarely sees others get injured. Usually, it is only the inexperienced and uncommitted tend to end up in the hospital. Yet out of the six members of my ski crew, four of them (including myself) ended up in Tahoe Forest Hospital. Yet out of the sixty plus days skied, an injury or two is to be expected. The next element of the park that has not been advantageous to skiing is the attitude that skiers bring to the park. This attitude daunts others skiers in the park and terrifies the weekend warrior skiers who have never heard mention of a ‘terrain park.’
Raucous parties last all night, and where the vibe is all attitude and punk-ass kid. The U.S. Freeskiing Open, like the ESPN X Games, is a celebration of all things youthful and irresponsible. While the kids in the U.S. Ski Association race program are tuning edges and analyzing video, the kids at the Open are sneaking beers at the welcoming party and talking a lot of smack (Winter 101).
Terrain park skiers have been know to party off the slope, rather than focus on off the hill training. These two factors contribute to the new, laid back, feel that the sport has attained over the past decade, but injuries and attitude can be seen as negative factors since the introduction of the terrain park.
In all, the change that the terrain park brought has been enormous. Has skiing changed for the good because of all of this? Indeed, it has. First, as mountains across the nation continue to invest in terrain parks, many more skiers become part of this so-called revolution. The ski community continues to grow, and by doing so, the revenue received in the industry has grown. New ski technology has become the result of the park, as skiers demand only the lightest and most durable product. The amount of tricks that skiing now offers has increased exponentially, meaning that years can be spent the terrain park in an attempt to learn a single new trick, such as a 1080. And once that trick is done, it can be done backwards! Crews have begun to pop up nationwide, boosting skier safety and progression. The rest of the mountain has become much more appealing to terrain park skiers with the new mindset taken to them. As well, urban cityscapes pose to be viable skiing environments since the terrain park has been in place. In all, the terrain park has improved the sport of skiing in multiple aspects.
"Dipped when you see me" -Mac Dre