Skateboarders say Vail is behind the trend |

Skateboarders say Vail is behind the trend

Geraldine Haldner

That was four years ago, and what Satsky and other Vail skateboarders and BMX bikers have still is a seasonal obstacle course on top of the Lionshead Parking Structure.

“You got one month and one day left to make it happen,” Satsky, a senior at Battle Mountain High School and a lifelong Vail Valley resident with a mob of peroxide-blond hair, teases Johnson during a recent organizational meeting before the skate park is set up this weekend.

Their rapport is easy-going. Satsky, who lives in Minturn, grew up participating in youth programs; Johnson is the Vail Recreation District’s youth services supervisor.

“If I saw Ben on the street on a school day, I would stop him and ask “why aren’t you in school?'” Johnson explains.

Johnson, who appears at ease around teen-agers and young adults – a requirement for her job – responds with sincere sheepishness to Satsky’s teasing.

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“I know, man, I really thought we could get it done. 2002! I thought that would give us plenty of time,” she tells him.

Things looked hopeful in 1998, Johnson remembers. The Vail Town Council had been mindful of the burgeoning skateboard movement that had started underground in the late 1970s and threatened to become a mainstream recreational and competitive discipline by the 1990s.

Millions of kids world-wide are kicking and flipping boards on wheels, council members were told. Skate parks, they learned, attract paying parents at the sneaker-clad heels of their skateboarding kids. Older skateboarders, they heard, take trips around the country just to visit skate parks away from home.

“It looked like we were going to an election and we were talking about a 20,000-square-foot indoor skate park,” says Johnson, who worked on the skate park proposal as part of the Vail Center project while it was still hot in 1998 and 1999.

By 2000, however, the council’s excitement had cooled considerably as it became clear that an everything-for-everyone community and convention center – complete with a second sheet of ice, a skate park and a climbing wall – wouldn’t be cheap, unless one considers $78 million chump change.

A year later, faced with a dimmer economic outlook, council members opted to push the center plans onto the back burner. And that’s where plans for a permanent skate park have stayed throughout Satsky’s senior year. He is 18 now and only mildly disappointed that Johnson’s prediction didn’t come true.

As the son of a school district employee, he knows a thing or two about how politics and patience go hand in hand. But still, not old enough to drink, he limits his entertainment opportunities.

“It’s Vail,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders. “But where does that leave us?”

But Vail hasn’t completely ignored skateboarders.

In 1997 the town and the recreation district, with the financial help of Vail Resorts and other contributors, permitted Johnson to turn part of the top plate of the Lionshead parking structure into an outdoor obstacle course, complete with half-pipes, banks, spines, hips and rails.

“We made it a six-week experiment and everyone loved it so much we said we are going to do it again,” Johnson says of the initial experiment, supported by local merchants because it helped keep skateboarders off the pavement in front of their stores.

A management agreement between the town and the recreation district, divided the responsibilities, and Johnson – never shy with kids – became the “skate park lady,” raising about $10,000 annually to make the park happen each year from May to October.

But what was new and great six years ago has fallen out of favor with both the local skateboarders, who promised to take good care of it, and Johnson, who has to answer to any problems related with it.

Last year the skate park project hit an all-time low.

“I hated looking at it every time I drove by,” Johnson tells the small gathering of skate park users, who have come together to air out past grudges and formulate a plan to keep the obstacle course going.

Aside from picking up trash piling up around the edges of the course, Johnson faced the icky task of getting human feces cleaned up. Though late-night bar visitors may have had something to do with “the stench problem in the staircases,” she tells the group, they will have to fight the perception that the skateboarders create the problem.

The initial mile-wide support from local skateboarders to help with the set-up and break-down of the course, proved to be an inch deep by last year.

“The local skaters community’s support had gone down to the point, where I wasn’t sure I wanted to bother with it anymore,” Johnson tells the group.

Faced with no one to help, Johnson paid an out-of-town crew to help with the set-up and break-down of the course – a move that further alienated some of the local skateboarders, whose sense of ownership had eroded past the point of caring.

Though the skate park has never been the scene of rampant criminal behavior, Paul Barben, a detective with the Vail Police Department and himself a skater, tells the group that drug use, foul language, skating without helmets and interfering with parking structure traffic would only be a detriment to the future of the skate park.

Any type of illegal behavior, Barben says, “would make it really tough for us to be nice about it.”

Barben tells the skateboarders that while the police department “is totally supportive of the skate park,” daily patrols will be routine.

“We have had complaints from merchants and motorists about actually being hit in the parking structure by a skater,” he says. “We have zero-tolerance for skating inside the parking structure.”

Satsky and fellow skateboarders say they understand they have to be good because the sport of their choice sprang from a culture based on being bad.

Reclaiming the skate park they have and a making it a source of personal pride, they say, is the only way they will ever make a case for why Vail should have a permanent skate park.

“It’s such a little price to pay,” says 30-year-old Jason Wallis, who has lived in Vail for the past six years and works as a manager at Vail Snowboard Supply. “It does go against the attitude that comes with skating, but we are all getting older and realizing that that’s what it takes to keep a spot for kids. We all have lost spots because no one took care of it. Taking care of it will maybe someday get us a better spot.”

Watching other towns, from Silverthorne to Salida, build skating facilities while Vail hasn’t progressed past plans is frustrating, Wallis acknowledges.

“A skate park in Vail would rock. It would make Vail a world-class skating destination,” he says.

Aside from self-policing their course and leading by example, several skateboarders say they will help Johnson raise funds to replace lost or broken obstacles in the future.

C.J. Poulin, a 24-year-old manager at the Haagen-Dazs in Vail, tells Johnson he’s sure his boss would contribute some money.

“I’ve been there for five years. He knows I’m not bullshitting around,” he says, adding that other small business owners could be talked into helping out.

“Not only do you get a tax write-off, you are also supporting your local skateboarders, most of which probably work for you,” he says, practicing a mock contribution request.

Asked why he thinks Vail should have a permanent skate park, Poulin doesn’t have to think long for an answer.

“We are the next generation that will run this town. We will be having kids who will be in this sport, too.”

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at

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