Boisean has built terrain parks around the world

Former pro snowboarder Ryan Neptune, who has proposed a winter terrain park in Eagle, designs parks in some of snowboarding’s biggest venues.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comNovember 19, 2013 

On Saturday, Ryan Neptune smoothed the snow with a blue shovel at the end of the short snowboard course. He had designed and welded every part of the 60-by-20-foot trick-rail playground for a competition at Pray For Snow Winter Ale Fest in Downtown Boise on Sunday. The riders waited at the top of the course, eyeing the rails they’d jump onto, slide down and spin off.

Neptune has designed and built thousands of snow jumps, half-pipes and rails at snowboarding’s biggest events, including the superpipe at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships half-pipe events. Pray for Snow was small-scale for Neptune. It gave him an excuse to stay close to home.

Neptune, 42, graduated from Capital High School in 1992 and lives in Boise when he’s not traveling for work.

He may have a bigger local project soon. He signed a contract with the city of Eagle to build a terrain park that would provide a venue for snowboarding, skiing and tubing during the winter. The park would cover about 7 acres and cost about $1 million. It would be owned by Gateway Parks, a new company co-owned by Neptune that will specialize in urban parks. Eagle would get 10 percent of lift-ticket sales.

The land is part of the 263-acre Ada-Eagle Sports Complex leased to Eagle from Ada County. County commissioners want Eagle to delay the project until it addresses their concerns about liability and the conditions of the contract between the city and county.

Neptune — his birth name — was a professional snowboarder before venturing into design. He started snowboarding on the logging roads below Bogus Basin before the resort allowed snowboards on the groomed runs. He started competing in competitions in his late teens and was the 1999 U.S. champion in boardercross, which pits four to six racers against each other on a race course full of sweeping turns, jumps and berms.

Most ski areas didn’t know how to build jumps or rails when he started competing in the early 1990s, Neptune said. He grew frustrated by the lack of big jumps at big snowboarding competitions. He started tagging along with groomer operators at night, giving suggestions. The advice usually was some variation of “make it bigger.”

“I never even found this (design work),” Neptune said. “It found me. I was just a competitor. I was just tired (of) flying 5,000 miles to an event and no jumps.”

Pushing around snow at night also gave him a welcome escape from the party culture that permeates pro snowboarding, he said. Neptune said he’s never touched drugs, alcohol or even coffee because of health reasons.

“(The work) forced me to not be around that,” Neptune said. “I couldn’t handle it. I never could handle it.”

During the summers, Neptune operated a landscaping business in Boise called Yard Keeper. One of his 13 employees applied rudimentary welding skills to repair broken trailers and other equipment. Neptune asked his employee to make trick rails. Later, Neptune learned to weld and started making rails — long, narrow and often curved surfaces for snowboarding a few feet off the ground. He also made tools for building jumps.

“Before us, no one built rails for ski resorts,” Neptune said. “I just made stuff for myself, because I was doing events. Then ski areas started asking me for them. After four or five years of giving them away, I started selling them.”

In 1998, he formed Planet, his terrain park design company that he operates out of his home workshop at 3200 Mountain View Drive.

Bill Cox knew about Neptune’s work when Neptune formed Planet. Cox is the regional manager for the Midwest office of Prinoth, one of the largest makers of snow-grooming equipment used by Neptune and others to move snow and build terrain parks.

“That was when ski area operators started looking to bring in people to do terrain parks well,” said Cox, who has worked with Neptune for four years. “He was one of the frontrunners in that.”

Before planning a park, Neptune gets into a snow-grooming machine and smooths the park area. He wants to know how much snow he’ll have — how much “Play-Doh I’ll have on the table.” He doesn’t measure the angles of the rails he bends or the jumps he builds. He’s never made a blueprint.

Neptune’s work is a combination of art and science, said Bob Holme, a partner in Gateway Parks. “He doesn’t start with a drawing, but the end, finished product looks engineered,” Holme said. “You wonder, ‘How did he get there?’ ”

Holme competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics on the men’s ski-jump team. He operates the six terrain parks at Winter Park Resort in Colorado. Holme said he met Neptune while a Planet crew was building out parts of the resort’s terrain parks, which include more than 100 Planet rails.

“To me, he’s the terrain park ninja,” Holme said. “Those gears are turning in Ryan’s head. He’s using his experience as an athlete and his knowledge of operating machines. He’s fine-tuning what works.”

Gateway Parks will take the Planet brand into cities like Eagle. The parks will be maintained with artificial snow for snow sports during the winter, then could be converted into biking courses in the summer.

So far, Gateway Parks has built one park in Lansing, Mich., and has projects underway in Colorado, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Eagle Mayor Jim Reynolds said he expects his city’s project to move forward. Ada County commissioners “have a more positive bent now,” Reynolds said. “They were never that negative. They just had a lot of questions. I’m very hopeful, but I can’t give you a date.”

Larry Maneely, Ada County commissioners’ chief of staff, said the city discussed with the county buying part or all of the land. The county is waiting to hear back from the city after the property was appraised.

Neptune said he’d like to bring more snowboarding opportunities to the Treasure Valley, though the Eagle park might cut into his time at home.

“I won’t be able to stop myself from fixing it,” he said.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, @IDS_zachkyle

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