A helluva huge day in the park | VailDaily.com

A helluva huge day in the park

Scott Willoughby

I’d been to some unique bars before, but never one quite so unusual as this. I hunched my shoulders instinctively, ducking my head forward as if it made any difference when I leapt into what I considered the safe zone. Someone handed me a beer as I cringed under the next “whoosh-clang,” looking up in time to catch a glimpse of the sound’s origin as he flew beyond the horizon.”It’s OK,” Tim Eastley assured me. “They won’t hit you.”The rational side of my brain understood the physics of the Eastley-designed bar. Still it took some time for my comfort zone to expand to the point of relaxation while a tribe of pro snowboarders jibbed off the jagged steel “M” rail only 5 feet above our sipping station. I leaned further into the bar in an attempt to look casual as the “whoosh-clang” frequency increased.Like the rest of Breckenridge Ski Resort, the lauded Peak 8 terrain park has been closed for more than a week now. The jumps and superpipe that are traditionally ranked among the best in North America have been smoothed over, and one of the park’s handcrafted steel rails was even demolished by a snowcat, a victim of friendly fire as the operations crew mowed down the enormous snow mounds at season’s end.The playing field, you might say, has been leveled. Or at least it had been.Seemingly out of nowhere, a new park sprang up last weekend, a park so huge that the creators themselves were left awestruck and gawking at the features. But then, that was exactly the point of the Cutter’s Cup.The Cutter’s Cup, created by Snowboarder Magazine and named for the unsung industry heroes who cut and shape the terrain parks and halfpipes riders crave, is snowboarding’s answer to American Idol. Teams from the U.S. and Canada are invited annually to the competition that decides who can create the best park features in a 36-hour period as determined by an invitation-only field of nearly 200 professional riders over the course of a two-day session at season’s end. Among those features stood Eastley’s bar, disguised as a rail slide included among the host team’s contributions to the contest.The Breckenridge Park Crew of Eastley, Elliot Cone and Brad Hoerter won the event last year, attempting to defend their title last weekend against teams from Mammoth Mountain, Calif.; Park City, Utah; and Lake Louise, Canada.”We’ve set a standard at Breckenridge and, unfortunately, now we have to live up to it,” joked Elliot.Truth be told, the reputation of the Breckenridge park and pipe is somewhat secure for now. It is without peer within the state of Colorado, regularly hailed as the preeminent local jib haunt and among the best in the nation. And for the cutters themselves, this post-season contest is more fun than anything else. This is the time when they get to build their dream park, complete with hits so large even their creators are afraid of them.”I think the best part of having a contest like this is that we don’t have the restrictions of dealing with the public in the park, so we can gap out jumps and make things a little more gnarly,” Hoerter said. “It’s definitely not quite as safe, but the level of talent here is exceptional.”After drawing lots to divvy up the designated contest terrain, each team was given time to design and create the best features they could dream up for their allotted parcel.”We gauge our success by how many riders hit the jumps and how many filmers are filming them,” Hoerter said. “If it doesn’t look good on film, then nobody is going to jump it because it won’t be in the videos. So we try to make our jumps photogenic and pleasing to the riders.”As is the prevailing trend in “super” parks and pipes, a critical component is size. Just about everyone in attendance agreed that the park built at Breckenridge last Friday qualified as the largest in history, with some features so daunting they were nearly unrideable.”Breck already has some of the biggest jumps for an average park,” said Pat Kagi, designated “test jumper” for the team. “This is way bigger than that. It’s the biggest park I’ve ever seen.”After a long, thankless season that included 50-hour work weeks since Dec. 1, raw overnight working conditions and an endless stream of “suggestions” from local riders calling the crew at home, one might consider the Cutter’s Cup little more than a nuisance to the crew. Yet, they manage to attack their work with surprising enthusiasm, maximizing their contest deadline with Cone and Hoerter putting in 36 hours in the snowcats and Eastley adding another 30 building the rails, all in the name of reputation.”Even if we weren’t making the magazine rankings, I think we do what we do because we love doing it,” Eastley said. “We work hard because we’re all riders. We ride everything and we’re just trying to make something good that we’d like to ride ourselves. Sure it’s great if the magazines like it, but if the local riders are happy then our job is done.”Local writer Scott Willoughby lowers the bar whenever the opportunity presents itself. He can be reached via e-mail at snowrite@vail.net.

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