Doing a lot with very little
Let's be honest with ourselves here. The midwest doesn't have a whole lot to offer besides 300 ft hills and mud. We don't get blower pow or thousands of feet of vert. We get rails and rad parks.
I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Matt Dunn, the Park Manager for one of the raddest parks in Michigan and the southeastern midwest as a whole. The first time I saw this park I was blown away by the quality, quantity, and straight-up weirdness of the features in such a small area. I grew up skating and found this park to be very similar to a skatepark, which has quickly become my favorite sort of park design. One of my biggest complaints with traditional park designs is that you are limited in the features you can fit in a run, and one is limited in the way that they can hit features. Pine Knob has gotten rid of all of this making it one of the most interesting parks I've ever ridden. So I figured for all you park crew people, or people interested in being park crew or anyone interested in the ways a sick park is built....this is the article for you.
Rider: Matt Dunn
Our conversation starts with a little bit of background on Pine Knob and the local legend Matt Dunn himself
-When did you, Matt, start getting into building terrain parks? How long have you been the park manager at Pine Knob?
"Shoot, if we’re going to start with when I first started building parks, it was in 2008 when I was 8. We have a little 10 foot tall, maybe 30-foot long “hill” in my backyard that my Dad had built a drop-in ramp on top of out of scrap wood from my old playset. In addition, he built an 8-foot flat bar out of a 2X4 that I would set up in as many different ways you could set an 8-foot wood rail on a 10-foot hill. Over the next 5 years, my Dad would help me build wood and PVC rails in the fall and I’d set them up in the backyard to compete with the park at Pine Knob since it was super primitive to the park game at the time. The backyard was completely pimped out, with 2 sets of construction floodlights, at its peak I believe I had 11 different hits on the tiny hill. I would be out shaping lips and setting rails until 1 AM as a 13-year-old, and with all the rails outruns being my neighbor's backyard and construction floods lighting their yard until the early morning, they were not incredibly stoked, to say the least, lol. I probably spent 15X the amount of time building the park then I would actually spend riding it as I got way more pleasure shaping razor-sharp lips. I guarantee I still have more hours logged in the backyard with a snow shovel and dirt rake than I do in the snowcat so far haha!"
Skier: Brendan Mclean
-Your park is obviously very unique- what approach do you take to building a park? Is there any inspiration for it and if so where did it come from?
"Unique is a huge compliment and it's always the goal :) A major inspiration to the park is my skating background. I really like building stuff that is reminiscent of a skatepark, with zig-zagging lines and features that you can pump and traverse from one end of the park to the other. Kinda like how you can pump around a skatepark and hit the same 5 features 15 different ways, having a feature be able to be hit no matter the direction you're coming from is always a goal. Seeing photos from Snowboy Productions “Holy Bowly” in park city in 2016 was another huge inspiration. Looking at the venue was like looking at a concrete skate bowl from the 70s and it got me completely stoked to want to attempt some similar stuff. Before I started building parks at Pine Knob, the park run had 5 big rollers that stretched across the whole hill that the rails would be set on. It was really difficult to get more than 5 hits in 1 run, now riders can link zig-zagging lines of upwards of 12 hits in our little 800-foot long rope park."
-It seems like parks have started to die out across the country. There are very few pipes left and parks everywhere are being scaled back with many resorts citing the high cost and high risk. How do you guys get around this?
"Ohh Interesting question… The way I see it, it's a big opportunity for small resorts with a core following. A lot of the big-name resorts like you said are scaling back their park operations and in turn, it's making more room for us little guys. I feel we’re transitioning from a time when the big resorts out west determined what is cool in the parks to a time now, where the locals and small resorts are becoming the trendsetters. Areas like Trollhaugen, Tyrol Basin, Wild Mountain, and Hyland Hills have turned into hubs for high-level riders and for park innovations. I've even heard from park builders and out west expressing their want for tow ropes out west. Who knows the rope tow could be a fad and whatnot, but until they figure a way to get you 100 laps in an hour without ruining your gloves, I think we’re here to stay haha.
-What does cost look like for you guys, in terms of materials for features?
As for costs, nearly all of the new rails I've built in the last few years have been from old unusable snowmaking pipe, as well as whatever steel junk I can find for super cheap on the Facebook marketplace. Things such as a 12-foot long waterfall mailbox that I paid 25$ total for. A 10-foot satellite dish that I got for 70$ and a TON of bonks from old water pressure tanks I've found on the side of the road. Also just turned 4 chair lift chairs into a bench/box-rail combo, with just about 50$ of extra steel. Outsourcing to social media has also been a huge help! Whenever we need something specific our followers are always enthusiastic to help in whatever way they can. I've found steel for rails for free from a local who just wanted us to make some rails out of steel he had. I've Found people to help with CNC plasma cutting for super cheap, even found a bus that we turned into a wallride for only 500$, AND it runs! "
Spring Slush with skier Evan Mclean
-If you were given an unlimited budget for the park, what would you build? What's your favorite feature? Either currently in the park line up or one that you would like to have.
"Unlimited budget eh? A couple more snowcats would be sweet since we only have 2, but a real dream is a 12-foot pipe cutter. Not for a full-sized halfpipe, but to shave some wavy transition, stuff like bowl corners, and all other weird shit I could try and make it do haha. Timberline Lodge Oregon's flow park is killer would like to use it for something like that, those dudes out there kill it with a Zaugg. Favorite feature, quarterpipes, and until we get a Zaugg, we're gonna keep cutting them the best we can with the cat and vert shovels, can't thank the park crew enough for how many hours they've spent cutting and raking vert! I really want to make a banked wallride, like that stuff you see mountain bikers hitting, like a big C wallride, that would be so tight."
-Finally, what interesting things do you guys have planned for this year and into the future?
"This year is going to be crazy. So We've got 3 terrain parks, Pinery, a 480-foot rope that we designate a mini-park for beginners. The Tow rope you see the most footage of is Timberline, that's an 800-foot rope. Fun fact, 800 feet is the longest a single operator rope can be in Michigan. The third park is Snowbird, and up until this year, it was a double-seater chair that we used for a jump line. This year we've torn down the double seater and we've installed a 980-foot rope tow, which needs 2 operators because it's so long. We plan on turning this park into a high-level rider park, with big kickers and unique large features whale tails, and shark fins. I'm way too stoked to start building over there this year."
Big thank you to Matt and the Pine Knob crew for providing me with this great content. If you would like to see more of what the guys at Pine Knob are doing, check out The Knob Project here. I think that in a time where we have seen parks start to decline it is important to take a look at the places doing it right. With the current state of things who knows what the future holds for parks. We're all lucky to have people like Matt and his crew, who have the passion and drive to work 7 days a week hand-cutting features for us to have some fun on two planks. If you're ever in the area, make sure you check out this Rad Park.