Jib Nation | VailDaily.com

Jib Nation

Scott Willoughby/Special to Daily
Life in the new freestyle ÑÊor Jib Nation ÑÊTime to join the is a place where passports are twin-tipped, steel rails are precious metal and any multiple of 180 is money.

So you say you’re having a hard time getting your jib on? Your 360s could be a little more toxic? Maybe your fish isn’t quite stale enough?

What up, yo? Time to join the Jib Nation immigration.

The reality is, you’re already here, the epicenter of the new American freestyle. A place where passports are twin-tipped, steel rails are precious metal and any multiple of 180 is money. Where Oakley is king, Quicksilver queen and everyone over 35 either has a son or a Sony (Handicam) in tow, probably both.

Life is grand in Jib Nation. The air is big and the disciples all have style. When they aren’t butterin’ the pipe, they’re doin’ the Dew, playin’ PlayStation or rockin’ the latest “zines and videos in their park place crib. A 1,250-watt digital satellite sound system provides constant theme music.

Terrain taking over

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Colorado’s terrain parks and halfpipes have come a long way from the picnic tables, hay bales and assorted whoop-di-dos of yore, moving from resort backwaters into mainstream moneymakers as New School freestyle continues to flex its muscle as a trend to be reckoned with.

Parks and pipes are taking center stage on the slopes, offered up as calling cards to entice the masses to the mountains. Once an afterthought, halfpipes are now groomed daily. Gi-normous kickers and rad rails are on display like self-guided roller coasters for thrill seeking skiers and snowboarders while slopeside yurts offer weary riders a spot to chill with all the comforts – and party atmosphere – of a fraternity house.

While it’s impossible to gage the exact population of Colorado’s Jib Nation, this much we do know: Colorado boasts no fewer than 30 terrain parks, 18 halfpipes and six Super Pipes (Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Buttermilk, Copper Mountain, Steamboat and Vail). Statistics from Colorado Ski Country USA show some 78 tabletops and 145 rail slides in place at any given moment this season. At two miles long, Buttermilk’s Crazy T’rain Park is the longest on the continent and Steamboat boasts the world’s longest Super Pipe, Mavericks, at 675 feet. Breckenridge’s Freeway Terrain Park alone demanded nearly 25 million gallons of snowmaking water to build this season, and there are two other parks on the mountain.

Park potential

Why all the bother, you ask? Let’s kick a few facts.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, 239 of the 300 largest resorts in the country now have terrain parks. And the number has doubled in the past 5 years. Sales of twin-tipped skis increased by 15 percent in 2001 to 15,064, joining the 463,485 snowboards sold in the same period (a 2.5 percent increase). In a skier market that has shown modest growth at best for more than a decade, little Johnny Jibber is increasingly significant.

Bottom line is if you got no park, you got no game.

“If you don’t have a park, you can’t compete,” said Bob Schubring, a Denver skier and creator of the year-old freeskiing web site, Jibij.com. “This is the way things are going for a while. Who knows whether parks and pipes are going to be around for the next 2 years or the next 20 years, but it’s clearly what you need to draw kids to your resort at the moment.”

Kids, said Breckenridge marketing manager Christian Knapp, are an integral part of the family decision about where to ski or snowboard. And at the moment, many of them are selecting Breckenridge because of its top-ranked terrain park and monstrous Super Pipe with 18-foot walls, the largest in the state.

“It’s extremely important to us to offer a top-notch terrain product,” Knapp said. “In the last few years the park and pipe have gained more in popularity and focus for us and our guests. We’re not really able to track the growth, but it’s safe to say that the Freeway is one of the most popular runs at Breckenridge and it grows in popularity every year.”

The popularity is evident among both the skiing and snowboarding walks, as Breck’s terrain park was named among the top four in North America by readers of both TransWorld Snowboarding and freeskiing-dedicated Freeze Magazine. Snowboarders accounted for 26 percent of the resort’s lift ticket sales last season, Knapp said, and a slight majority of the Freeway Terrain Park users, although that may soon change.

“I would almost venture to say it’s a 50/50 skier to snowboarder ratio these days,” Knapp said. “Maybe 60/40. But there is a whole generation of young skiers who, like snowboarders, are just interested in riding park and pipe.”

Marketing madness

In addition to the spectacular features created by Breck’s new Swiss-made Zaugg pipe machine, Knapp credits events such as the recent Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding, U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix and a forthcoming X Games freesking qualifier for bringing the resort’s park and pipe to the media forefront by drawing top caliber athletes capable of making the most of them.

“Let’s face it, if a mountain has a phenomenal park, but no scene, no media and no big-name athletes there, it’s not going to get the coverage,” Knapp said. “Hosting big events is a key to the success of our park.”

There is arguably no better example of that success formula than at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain. Formerly overlooked by the disciples of jib, the area now ranks among North America’s top 15 parks by Freeze readers after an exposure overdose on ESPN’s Winter X Games last season.

Known primarily as a learning hill, Buttermilk also exemplifies how moving some snow and adding about 30 rails to make up for otherwise monotonously sane t’rain can change a resort’s demographic overnight.

“If you look at the skier days at Buttermilk and the other Aspen areas, the minute we get the park open there’s a quick jump up (at Buttermilk),” resort spokesman Jeff Hanle said. “It definitely makes a difference.”

To some, it may seem odd to see a line at the top of the chair lift as long as the line at the bottom. But inversion is a way of life in Jib Nation, and apparently we’re all just going to have to get used to it.

“A lot of people are falling out of the old style of things. People seem to be flowing more toward the X Games than toward the Olympics,” said Steamboat terrain park supervisor Chris Asta. “It’s just a whole new dimension of sports.”

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