Winter Recreation

Alpine terrain parks: ‘The only sexy thing on the hill’

Corey McDonald was a Boise skateboarder 30 years ago when videos of snowboarders inspired him to go to Bogus Basin and try his skills on snow.

Now it’s his job to convince other kids and young adults to make the same leap.

McDonald, whose first job at Bogus Basin was as a snowboard instructor on a board he got at a discount after contacting manufacturers about his dreams of becoming a pro, is in his second year as the terrain parks director.

He leads a 10-person crew that builds and grooms three parks. Those parks will be instrumental in the marketing plan for one of Bogus Basin’s new passes for 2016-17 — a $99 nights-only pass targeted at the millennials that the ski industry struggles to reach.

“It’s going to be a major focus of ours to increase the visitorship in the terrain parks in the future,” General Manager Brad Wilson said. “I don’t think we’re near as busy as we should be.”

Terrain parks, which started as a home for snowboarders, have become popular with skiers, too. They’re still a niche — one that Ryan Neptune says ski areas fill for the marketing power.

Neptune, the owner of Gateway Parks in Eagle, has made a career of building and designing terrain parks worldwide. He has a small terrain park at Gateway, even though the facility is more of a tubing hill than a ski hill.

He considers terrain parks “overrated” because of their limited reach.

“They’re the only sexy thing on the hill,” Neptune said. “They’re the marketing avenue for skiing and snowboarding of today.”

The key, ski area managers agree, is to build a park that appeals to a larger crowd.

Bogus Basin has a series of small features at the bottom of Stewart’s Bowl for newcomers to the terrain park. It built a terrain park specifically for the junior high and high school program off the Bitterroot chair (more than 400 students participated in the school events this season). And the Mountain Dew terrain park, which runs from the top of the Deer Point Express chair to the bottom of the mountain, includes features rated “small” and “medium” to allow riders to progress. The majority of the features are on Mambo Meadows.

“It is a balance,” said Wilson, who worked at the first U.S. ski resort to build a terrain park and one of the first to make terrain parks central to the operation. “I’ve seen it go both ways. You build too big of jumps and you end up catering to a handful of good riders, or you build smaller features that everybody can use and the really strong riders won’t be as challenged as they’d like to be. It’s hitting that middle ground.”

Sun Valley Resort offers the highest-end terrain park in Idaho. It features several levels of terrain parks at Dollar Mountain, from rolling terrain for beginners to an Olympic-sized superpipe and 60-foot jump for elite athletes.

It’s good to have a venue like that in the market, Wilson said, but there aren’t enough high-level riders to justify more of them. Bogus Basin would need $150,000 worth of snowmaking equipment and a $150,000 cutting machine just to have a chance to build and maintain a halfpipe, McDonald said. Bogus has had four halfpipes carved into the mountain over the years, including two that still exist, he said.

Like McDonald, Sun Valley’s Nate Sheehan has made the transition from competitive snowboarder to terrain park manager. Sheehan, 34, remembers building his own jumps and dragging logs out of the woods to create features in his early days as a snowboarder.

“I feel really fortunate to still be a part of it,” he said. “A big part of what I love about my job is the creativity of it. That’s what I’ve always loved about snowboarding and terrain parks.”

Tamarack Resort has been known for quality terrain parks since its inception, including some large features that covered 1,700 vertical feet in the resort’s early years. The mountain offers three smaller terrain parks now.

“What I’ve seen in the ski industry is more of a scaling back of terrain parks,” Tamarack General Manager Brad Larsen said. “There was a movement for bigger, larger, more. You actually saw it really in halfpipes. A lot of places have kind of brought it back in line. As the features get bigger and bigger, the utilization rate goes down. As you make them smaller, more people are able to use them and there are less injuries.”

Tamarack has three full-time employees dedicated to its current parks.

“You need it, but the level of what you need is more marketing and image,” Larsen said. “If you want to be a training ground for Olympians, you have to have it big. But if you just want something where your 7-year-old can have a little fun while mom and dad go skiing, you don’t have to have that.”

Boise freestyle skier Trevor Hattabaugh would like to see more large features at Bogus Basin. He began learning the sport at Bogus until the freestyle program was dropped. He moved to Tamarack until the resort’s financial problems forced him to look for another option. He skied for a team in Park City, Utah, for a year and for Sun Valley in high school, when he would leave Boise on Thursday nights and spend the weekend there.

He likes what McDonald has brought to Bogus, which has a freestyle team again.

“It’s definitely an improvement on what they’ve had in the past and I’m stoked that it’s going in the right direction,” Hattabaugh, 20, said.

Hattabaugh, who is going to school at Utah and coaching in Park City while recovering from torn knee ligaments, gets the biggest thrills on jumps of 50 feet or more.

“What drew me (to the sport) was you could get air like you could get on a trampoline,” he said. “You can be creative with it and it’s athletic, but it doesn’t really feel like exercise. And really, it’s one those things that the better you get at it, the more fun it is, so it’s kind of addicting in a way.”

McDonald, 41, still competes on his snowboard. He has served several stints on the Bogus staff and left twice in part because the ski area wasn’t fully committed to terrain parks.

He returned last season because Bogus wanted to build a full-time terrain parks staff. Previously, the parks were managed by the mountain events staff.

“The thing that’s crazy is (terrain parks) have been around a long time,” McDonald said, “but Bogus had never really full-on done it.”

Terrain park terms

  • Jump: Snow ramp designed to catch big air. The size is measured by how far a rider is expected to fly.
  • Rail: A metal bar that might be flat, angled or some combination that riders slide down.
  • Box: A wider version of a rail that is easier to ride. Often, boxes and rails are side by side to provide options for varying levels of riders.
  • Jib: Barrels, culverts and other items you wouldn’t normally find on a ski hill. “A jib can be anything — rocks, logs, small children,” Bogus Basin’s Corey McDonald said.
  • Wall: A banked snow feature that allows for steep turns and jumps.
  • Hip: A jump with a banked landing area.
  • Halfpipe/superpipe: A long, U-shaped run designed for riders to do aerial tricks at the top of the walls.
  Comments