Terrain park design has seen just as much progression as snowboarding itself, with plenty of room to run.
This article originally appeared in the Crafted section of the December 2014 issue of Transworld SNOWboarding. Subscribe here.
Remember the days when halfpipe lips were cut with chalk line and a chainsaw? So does John Rice, General Manager of Sierra-at-Tahoe. Rice wishes he still had the sheet of butcher paper on which Toms Sims drew a giant U-shaped wave in 1989 and asked him to make one out of snow. Along with Bert Lamar, the stealthy trio highjacked the Big Bears snow cat at night to push snow into four-foot quarterpipe walls.
They eventually got caught, but these unsanctioned missions were early sparks of the terrain park revolution birthed on the West Coast and reared by Big Bear, which yielded a demand for snowboarding inclusion that resorts couldnt ignore for long. Snowboarders didnt like just riding groomers. They liked to jump off of stuff, says Rice.
Two-and-a-half decades later, we have terrain park-specific laser levels, inclinometers, on-hill welders, and 22-foot Superpipe cutters. The Prinoth Bison XPT snowcat comes equipped with satellite radio and blades that sync up with a cockpit laptop to adjust their angles to the the slope of the hill.
Its no longer just the grooming crews doing it all, says Rice Now we have specialized equipment operators bringing out lasers to see where the intercepting points are and proprietary models helping us understand how the ballistics shape out on a jump.
Tillers even have snow density sensors that regulate the amount of applied force and Rice believes that sonar devices for measuring snow depth belowmuch like the Fishfinder on a boatare just around the corner.
Another key player whos been there since the dawn of the method and is largely responsible for the current and future development of terrain park design is Chris Gunny Gunnarson, President of Snow Park Technologies (SPT).
Once SPT knows the scope of their project and the budget, the physical parameters have to be worked out. We build everything in 3Dtypically with a program called Sketchup, which any park crew can download and view, says Gunny. But weather conditions, temperature change, and other variables are endless when it comes to snow, and standardization of dimensions is impossible. You can design a perfect jump on a computer and build it exactly to spec on Monday and it might be completely different by Tuesday, he says, We also have to account for a seven-year-old girl on skis versus a 22-year-old dude on a snowboard whos really 100 pounds heavier and rips. Its hard to make a jump that fits both.
For this reason, modern terrain park design puts tremendous emphasis on the right combination of expertise. You cant have physicists building jumps when they dont ride, just like you cant have riders building jumps with no understanding of basic physics. And thats not just for pro-level events. These days, cat drivers need to be just as skilled building 60-foot booters as they are cutting six-inch rollers in Burtons Star Wars Riglet park.
We cant just get caught up in whos going to build things bigger and badder, says Clayton Shoemaker, Big Bears Director of Park Development. We need to have something available for everyone while staying core and progressive for the sport.
As we creep toward some sort of amplitude ceiling, look for park design to take a more creative direction, experimenting with weird, creative features. Remember, this is still just the beginning.
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