Decorum among daredevils
Just like in golf and fine dining, there is an established etiquette to launching tricks off the park’s monster half-pipe, rails and jumps, say Vail snowboarders and freestyle skiers.
“It changes day to day, but generally speaking there doesn’t seem to be as much attitude in the park as there was a few years ago,” says Brian Baker, a freestyle skiing coach with Ski Club Vail. “People are more supportive of each other now.”
Wednesday, Vail Mountain’s annual ski safety campaign turned its spotlight on the Golden Peak Terrain Park, which is set aside for snowboarders and freestyle skiers to reach the speeds they needs to do high-flying tricks and jumps. A group of snowboard instructors were stationed throughout the park to discuss ways to do those tricks and twirls more courteously.
Starting at the top of the park, snowboard instructor Tim Stuart says one of the most important rules to riding the half-pipe is to give other riders plenty of space.
“You have to make sure there’s enough of a gap between you and the person in front of you that you’re not going to catch the person,” Stuart says. “Sometimes snowboards who are better – or who think they’re better – try to pass a person, and that’s when collisions occur.”
Collisions can be especially dangerous in the confined space of the half-pipe.
High speeds and the sharp edges of snowboards can also cause serious injuries, Stuart says.
“Once a person is in the half-pipe,” snowboard instructor Ben Alexander says, “it’s that person’s pipe.”
Snowboarders trying to show off sometimes cause the most trouble in the pipe, Stuart says.
“Some of the guys who are really good think it’s their God-given right to drop in in front of other people,” he says.
Riding the half-pipe or the park’s other features without first checking the snow conditions can be perilous, Stuart says.
“A lot of people go through the park without checking it out. They get injured because they had too much speed or too little speed before going over a jump,” Stuart says.
Riders should take an inspection run before doing tricks in the park because snow conditions can change throughout the day, he says.
A rider’s skill also plays a critical role in a safe trip through the terrain park, Alexander says.
“This is a black-diamond run and if you’re not up to a black-diamond level, you probably want to advance your skills by maybe taking a lesson before coming into the park,” Alexander says. “That makes it safer for yourself and others.”
The are two, less-advanced parks on Vail Mountain. There is a beginner’s park alongside the Golden Peak terrain park and an intermediate-level park above Lionshead on the Bwana run, Alexander says.
“It’s like driving,” Alexander says. “You don’t take someone learning to drive onto the highway; you let them drive around in a parking lot for a while.”
Joe Wilcox, a snowboarder from Vail, says safety depends entirely on the riders in the park.
“It just depends on rider awareness –knowing not to drop into the pipe right after another person, knowing not to jump until someone has cleared the landing,” Wilcox says. “But the park can be dangerous when someone’s riding above their level.”
Wilcox’s friend, Nathan Crumb, says other areas of the mountain are more dangerous than the terrain park.
“Tree runs are more dangerous than the half-pipe,” he says.
Discord and harmony
The safety and etiquette message, however, hasn’t quite reached everyone, says local snowboarder Lenny Samski.
“I got busted into the other day. Some guy dropped into the half-pipe and wrecked me,” Samski says. “It’s just that snowboarder mentality –they’re trying to showboat. I think that won’t change.”
The park also can be perilous for spectators, Alexander says.
“To clear these jumps, people need to go extremely fast,” he says. “People who might bring their families to see the park have to understand that –people ride fast for a reason.”
But there is a unity among the snowboarders and freestylers in the park that keeps the place pretty safe, says snowboard instructor Laura Smith.
“Generally, people are considerate and people are encouraging to people they don’t even know,” Smith says. “There’s a unity here because it’s all about progressing as much as you can.”
Baker, the ski coach, says safety comes with experience.
“I think people who ride the park regularly know what to do as far as not standing in the landing of a jump or waving before dropping into the half-pipe,” Baker says. “The people that don’t know are the people who are new to the park –and they can learn.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.