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Tackling the terrain

Matt Zalaznick
Vail Daily/Melinda KruseKnowing the limits of your ability to do certain tricks is key to preventing injuries, says Stephen Lanterra, who designed and built Vail's terrain park at Goldern Peak.
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Of course, there’s a first time for every F-16 pilot, but only after a few thousand hours at the helm of other planes that actually leave the ground.

That’s pretty much the concept snowboarders and skiers say riders should have in mind when considering a run through the half-pipes, rails and jumps in a terrain park, such as the feature-filled playground on Vail’s Golden Peak.

“You’ve got to push your limit, but you’ve got to know what you’re pushing,” says Rob Mosher, a freestyle skier from Ft. Collins.



In letters written to the Vail Daily, people have complained the terrain parks are either too dangerous, poorly maintained or unsupervised. But these are all misconceptions, says Stephen Lanterra, who built the park on Golden Peak.

For one, he says, he often spend days fine-tuning a jump before opening it to the public. He says he won’t open the jump if he has any doubts about it. Responding to a recent letter, he also said jumps built especially for professional riders are not left open for the general public.



But, he adds, even if a jump is open to the public, a rider shouldn’t try it if he or she has any doubts about their ability to handle it.

Knowing the limits of your ability to do certain jumps or tricks is key to preventing injuries, Lanterra says.

“I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than crossing the street,” Lanterra says. “But you have to work your way up, just like all the other basic mechanics of the sport. You don’t send a beginner down a super-steep mogul run or a chute in the backcountry.”



“Features’ for all levels

Vail Mountain has three terrain parks for skiers and snowboarders of varying abilities. The main Golden Park peak is for experts, while the smaller park off the Bwana run above Lionshead is for intermediates. There also are a series of smaller “features” alongside the Golden Peak park for beginners to try their first jumps and rail slides.

On busy days, park attendants are in the park to direct traffic and check on the conditions of the jumps. Ski patrollers also make routine passes through the parks, Lanterra says.

“If people stay smart and pay attention to what’s going on around them –and don’t step out of the boundaries of their abilities – then it’s fine,” Lantrerra says, adding that paying attention is just as important as accurately gauging your ability.

Riding a terrain park is a lot like a swimming hole – you have to make sure no one’s below you before diving in. When it comes to jumps in the terrain park, snowboards and skiers should use other riders as spotters to make sure nobody is below.

Riders also should give each other plenty of space when riding in the half-pipe, where passing other riders is a big no-no. Collisions can be especially dangerous in the confined space of the half-pipe because of the high speeds riders need to carry them through the pipe and the sharp edges most skis and snowboards have.

“It’s as safe as riding through the trees,” Mosher says. “It’s as safe as skiing down the mountain; it’s as safe as your first time on skis.”

Inspections key

Injuries also occur when skiers and snowboarders aren’t familiar with the jumps or snow conditions and carry too much or too little speed through the park. Lanterra says when he rides the park, he always take one or two inspection runs before attempting any tricks or jumps.

“Every morning, even though I built the park, I’ll do one or two inspections,” Lanterra says. “People don’t do that and that’s one of their biggest mistakes.”

Snowboarder Henrik Forsbrant, from Arrowhead, says there are some inherent risks to the tricks riders try in the parks.

“You can’t build a snowboard park and make it safe,” Forsbrant says. “But it’s fun and you get a rush.”

The Golden Peak terrain park has several signs at the top informing skiers and snowboarders of expert terrain below. The signs also display safety slogans, such as “Look before you leap.”

“The new wave of skiers and snowboarders are into freestyle riding. They don’t want to ride bumps or race gates,” Lanterra says. “The key word in freestyle is “free’ – keeping it open and not holding people back.”

Jeff Harper, a snowboarder from Avon, says terrain parks give people places to try tricks that would be a lot more dangerous on other parts of the mountain.

“No matter what, people are going to try to catch air,” says Harper. “This way, they’re not catching air in the trees or off the catwalk. A terrain park is the safest way for it to happen.”

Terrain park injuries severe, doctor says

A skier or snowboarder who crashes on a soaring jump in a terrain park is, in most cases, going to be more badly injured than someone who topples over on the bunny slope.

“To me, it’s the difference between driving a car on the highway and driving a car on a race track,” says Dr. Larry Brooks, an emergency room physician at Vail Valley Medical Center.

Exact statistics on the severity of terrain park injuries are hard to come by, but Brooks says the hospital treats many skiers and snowboarders hurt in terrain parks.

“We have some very severe injuries out of the snowboard park, because it’s made to send people way up in the air,” Brooks says. “The park is not a place for amateurs who haven’t had any experience.”

Head, back and shoulder injuries are most common, Brooks says.

“We also see more injuries when people go through mogul fields than when they’re sliding down the hill,” Brooks says. “It’s the same as everything in life –there’s a risk-reward ratio. The more risk, the more thrill.”

Stephen Lanterra, who designed Vail’s Golden Peak terrain park –along with many other skiers and snowboarders – says the jumps, rails and half-pipe are safe. Injuries occur when skiers and snowboarder attempt tricks that are too difficult for them or when they’re not paying attention to others in the park, Lanterra says.

“If people stay smart and pay attention to what’s going on around them –and don’t step out of the boundaries of their abilities – then it’s fine,” Lanterra says.

Snowboarder Henrik Forsbrant, from Arrowhead, says there are some inherent risks to the tricks riders try in the parks.

“You can’t build a snowboard park and make it safe,” Forsbrant says. “But it’s fun and you get a rush.”

Brooks also says skiers and snowboarders can reduce the danger.

“I expect people who go into those things to understand there’s a risk involved,” he says. “If they don’t, they shouldn’t be in there.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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