All photos courtesy of Grouse Mountain
The world was a simpler place in 1994: the X Games weren’t even a thing yet, Henrik Harlaut was a couple of years from grade school and the Lion King was the movie of the year. 1994 was also the year that Grouse Mountain opened their first terrain park. The parks at the mountain, on the edge of Vancouver, celebrate their 25th anniversary this season and they’ve been innovating that whole time. We got the story direct from the people who lived it.
Vancouver-local and former Parks Manager at Grouse Mountain, Jeff Silcock, talks about the excitement when Grouse opened its first park. Bear in mind that we’re talking about a quarter of a century ago —a full four years before Salomon released the 1080— meaning the early years of the park didn’t feature many skiers.
“The first park at Grouse was 1994. I rode there when I wasn’t at school, that’s when my eyes opened up to how cool these sports really are”, he tells us. The idea of a terrain park was actually first floated by a couple of guys who were working in marketing, but were also keen snowboarders: “They got together and got a little space that was dedicated to building some features. They had a little budget for some events and a little budget for cat-time.”
Back in the 90s, the early days of snowboarding at Grouse.
Then came industry-wide insurance issues. The insurance companies weren’t sure about the safety of the new variations of snow sports, so things got put on hold for a couple of years. It was 1999 when they started back up at Grouse. “We were lucky enough to have a really deep snow-season that year, a lot of the time there was actually too much snow to maintain the park but the season ran really late. We even held a snowboard contest on July 1st, Canada Day. We pushed all the remaining snow into one bowl, built a little jump and had a local shop sponsor it. A couple of pros came out for that and looking back, that season was really memorable for the foundation it built for the many years to come. The momentum grew year after year, season after season, thanks to the dedication of the management and the ownership. Everything, grew from operations to park support, everything just kept snowballing. More and more people started riding up there and got more terrain and just evolving designs.”
How things have changed!
Thanks to that snowball-effect, the park offering at Grouse Mountain has grown from a solitary park in the 90s to the six parks and eleven crew members employed to maintain them today. Marcus Cartwright, who has managed the terrain parks since 2010, talks about what he sees as his biggest achievement: “We had always wanted to create a jump line on our premier run. It’s called ‘The Cut’ and it’s our biggest run, a super-wide green run that you can see it from the city. It’s pretty ideal for a slopestyle course, or a jump-line as it came to be, so we wanted to utilize that.”
They approached the management and told them what the idea was and how much snow-making it would take. To their surprise at the time, they got the go ahead. “The goal was to create a facility that we would attract local people. At the time there was definitely a lack of high-end jumps in the area, a proper jump-line. The only place you could go was Whistler. We thought this was a good opportunity and it has turned out quite well for us. It was just the start of where we wanted to take skiing and snowboarding in the area: to build our young guests into park riders. Now we have a freestyle school utilizing the terrain called ‘Vancouver Freestyle’, and a range of parks offering options for everyone from young kids getting the basics down to 17-18 year-olds practicing dub corks or whatever. Some of them follow the competition circuit and it’s really good that we created that facility for them. On a good day, it’s packed!”
Even way back then, Grouse were down to build experimental features
“That park also opened a lot of doors in terms of events and producing content,” Marcus continues. “We got a lot of great content from it, you’ve got that amazing view of the city as a backdrop.” The Cut is not to be confused with the Side Cut park, where the crew gets most creative with rails and features, making it the most popular park on the mountain.
Way back in the mid-nineties there weren’t many skiers in parks anywhere, but by 1999 freeskiing was in its infancy and starting to evolve. Since then there have always been skiers in the park. But skiing didn’t really start to feature prominently until a few years later when the Grouse Ski School started to run freeski clinics. Jeff Silcock says there was one man who really pushed skiing at Grouse Mountain: “Charlie Grinnell has been a huge influence in the freeskiing scene at Grouse from 2000 onwards. He was a local kid who started volunteering in the park and eventually ended up working on the media-side. He did a lot of filming and he was that voice on the ground of the ski-community at Grouse.” Charlie has since moved on to become a cinematographer at PoorBoyz, amongst other things.
That amazing view, with the OG Völkl Walls in front of it circa 2008
Things have changed dramatically in recent years with Cartwright saying the demographic has swung to around 70% skiers to 30% snowboarders in the parks. “It just happens to be that the park staff is mainly snowboarders so it just works out that it looks so snowboard heavy in the photos on the website. There’s a large skiing-crew here, which is great. It’s just good vibes and everyone’s there for the same reason. When I was researching for the 25 years of parks at Grouse Mountain project, I found some old photos of signs that said “Side Cut, Snowboarders Only”. In the early 90’s, there was definitely some rivalry back then, but now you look at people like Sean Pettit, doing both with a dope crew and it’s all the same. Everyone likes each other so it’s perfect.”
2017 was a good year for skiing at Grouse Mountain when they hosted a leg of Andy Parry’s Tell A Friend Tour. “When the Tell A Friend guys came through, that was pretty memorable, just because we got such a good turn out from the ski community. I got some crazy-good feedback from our local riders, who said it was ‘the best day they’ve ever had’, meeting all those guys. It’s a good program Andy has, I think they’re coming back this year, it was definitely great having those guys here”, says Cartwright. Mac Jones and his crew have been known to stop by as well. “Pre-season and end-of-season are when we get a huge fluctuation of people coming from outside of the area. We definitely get some big names coming through here at that time.”
The view at night...
But no matter how you ride, a variety of features is key for any park. Grouse Mountain may be small in comparison to its high-profile neighbors like Bachelor, Mount Hood Meadows, and Whistler Blackcomb, but it has always punched way above its weight when it comes to innovation. In 2016, Grouse opened Canada’s first natural-feature-only terrain park, using reclaimed wood and snow to build the features. “It’s an interesting park because, there’s a lot of traffic from people that aren’t actually using the features, they’re just using the natural slope to the run. It’s quite a narrow run, but it’s super-fun”, says Shaw Butterworth, Head Builder at Grouse from 2010 to 2017. It may be unique but it is a harder work for the crew. “It’s definitely worth the effort though, on a pow day it’s probably our strongest offering.”
and the view by day. Both hit the spot.
Shaw thinks it’s the jib offering that really sets Grouse apart. He should know, he’s worked on parks as far afield as Japan, Italy, and New Zealand. “One thing about Grouse is that their rail inventory is definitely one the most innovative in the world. They’ve got chain rails, they’ve got capped rails, cement features, and wood features. It’s stuff that you’re seeing popping up elsewhere now but definitely didn’t see before. I’m always excited to see what those guys cook up. I know that in the next few years they’ll come up with some new crazy rail ideas.”
Butterworth sums up what has helped Grouse’s parks to hit the 25-year milestone without going stale and losing focus “It’s pretty rare to find a resort that backs the terrain park as much as Grouse has for so many years. I took it for granted when I started there because I didn’t know any different, but when you start to find out the funding that other people get, the cat hours and the whole package, then you start to realize how invested they’ve been. And it’s been going on for 25 years now. We’re talking about since 1994, I was 5 years old! That’s insane, by the time I was 10 or 11 all I wanted to do was ride the park at Grouse.”
The Grouse crew hard at work
The growth of the parks at Grouse show no sign of slowing down. We’re excited to see what they cook up to celebrate this milestone, and who’s to say you won’t be reading a similar article in another 25 years to celebrate their 50th?