When the lifties finally took down the maze and flipped up the “Last Chair” sign yesterday afternoon, the park was beat up. Temperatures have been pushing the mid-forties for the last few hours of the day this week, and plenty of sun has left the snow slushy and chopped up. The park’s been getting plenty of traffic too, families on vacation wedging over the lips, college kids on spring break taking selfies on the rails, racer kids dragging hips over the knuckles, and even a few park skiers under-rotating spins and leaving divots where they hip check or backslap.
As patrol sweeps the hill, park crew works their way down for their last lap of the day. Click out just above a feature, scrape it, rake it, move on to the next. Soon the night crew will take over, grooming between jumps and rails, leaving fresh swaths of cord, ready for the hordes that inevitably come the next morning. It’s been about two weeks since the park had a major update, tonight is the last build day of the season. The plans have all been sketched out in the tiny, unheated shack that smells of ski socks and Axe deodorant. New rollers here, set up the wallride there, tweak the second jump in the big line, folks have been overshooting it.
They’ll dig most of the night, it’s clear, and from town you can see the specs of light on the hill, gleaming as the cats move rails, push snow, reset the parks. There’s a brief respite for a few hours in the early morning. It’s quiet in the terrain park, you can hear the muffled noise of the resort coming to life below, but up here it’s silent. No routes for patrol to run, no bombs to drop, just crisp lips, clean rails waiting like some bizarre sculpted installation. The sun is just starting to peek over the back ridge of the mountain when the lifts start spinning. The park is cold and icy when the crew gathers in their shack. They take a quick lap, checking the night’s handiwork, then retire to bide their time until things soften up.
The first person through the jump line is a dad. He’s already fumbling for his phone as he awkwardly skis over the first two knuckles, loses speed, has to waddle herringboned up the last. Then he hollers for his kids to drop in as he films them. The six-year-old power wedges over each knuckle, arms limp, no sound to betray any excitement she might have. The dad is encouraging loudly as he films. Later he’ll scream at a skier who landed too close to his crashed-out daughter in the blind spot of the knuckle. In his eyes these carefully sculpted jumps are just trophies, prizes to show his parent friends. “Look, she skied through the big park!” Later he’ll threaten to sue a young snowboarder who’s following the rules posted on the orange sign at the entrance, unlike himself. But for now, he’s proud in the peaceful morning. More hills should have a park pass.
By 11:30 most of the lips are beat up, even though no one has hit a rail yet. It’s just beginners side hitting the lips, carving and hockey stopping on the carefully raked snow. Park crew takes a lap, raking them all back in. A college snowboarder on spring break ignores the crossed skis in the run-in, almost takes out the digger as he takes a drunk, shirtless pre-lunch lap.
After lunch, the level of talent improves. A local crew hikes the kinked down tube for a few hours. It’s unclear if all of them have lift tickets, or if they just hiked up from the base. Either way, park crew is just glad to see somebody actually using a feature. One of them gets his first switchup, another is so close he can almost taste the sweet relief of landing his first four out. It might not happen today, but when it does happen, it will be because of today.
A gaggle of freeride kids runs train on the jump line. Front flip, backflip, big, spread eagle 360, all with that distinct arms-up, wide stance style that so many youths who spend their time learning how to trick natural features develop.
A skier in his second year of skiing skids to the entrance. He won’t hit rails, because he’s worried they’ll hurt his skis, the first pair he’s ever bought. His friends have talked him into dropping the big jump line though. He goes limp off the lip of the first, backslaps, but doesn’t fall over, instead accelerates into the second lip still lying on his back, his tails digging into his shoulders. He explodes into the air, losing one ski before he even bounces down the knuckle. His friends applaud. Later that evening the reel of his crash will gather hundreds of “likes.”
The local legend comes up at 1:30, takes four laps, and heads back down. He throws spins like he’s locked into a track, each grab foreordained. A few spectators whoop from the lift, he sags into the last landing and straight lines back to his car, reassured that he still has it.
In a few weeks, the resort will close for the season. Park crew will rake the lips one last time, the public will futz their way across them one last day, and then, as the evening falls, they’ll take a cat and rake huge furrows through the park they spent all week building and maintaining. They’ll pile hummocks across each lip and landing, absolving the resort from any liability. Then they’ll lock the shack and head home, dissipating to their separate summer jobs.
The knuckles will take a long time to melt. A few will still be visible when the resort opens again for mountain biking. But eventually, they’ll seep back into the ground, flow back into the river that runs past the skatepark in town. The park will lie flat and bare. And then, in just a few short months the storms will kick back in, the snow guns will fire back up, and some hearty souls will start hauling PVC up the hill, ready to ski the park once again.