Taking the terrain park seriously
VAIL ” Vail Mountain’s terrain park designer, Stephen Laterra, hears this a lot: You have the dream job. You spend all day on your snowboard thinking about halfpipe amplitude, kinked rails and park flow.
“I hear that a lot, but they’re wrong,” he said.
Don’t misunderstand him. He loves his job and is thankful every day for it. But it’s no walk in the, er, terrain park, he said.
“I lose a serious amount of sleep,” he said.
The park is getting close to its complete form after a long four months of design, making and pushing snow, building and installing rails, cutting the pipe and listening to complaints from riders.
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This year’s superpipe is 400 feet long with 18-foot walls; the jib park has more than 40 rails; and the park ends with several 50-foot-long tabletops.
The course for the Honda Session, a competition that was held this weekend at Golden Peak that attracts the best snowboarders in the world, wasn’t designed by Laterra’s crew, but he hopes the event showcased Vail as a serious destination for snowboarders.
“When they see this on TV, they’ll say, ‘Holy crap, we have to come here,'” he said.
Laterra never knows when he’ll get an idea for the park. It could come when he’s working at the park, it could come when he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend, it could be when he wakes up in the morning.
“Sometimes you dream about it,” he said.
As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, Laterra spent a lot of time skateboarding and making ramps. He was a big skier too, taking trips to Stratton Mountain and Mount Snow. He started snowboarding in the early ’90s and later moved to Breckenridge, where he stayed for two seasons. He then moved to Vail, where he was a rider for Team Vail.
In those early days of the terrain park, Laterra had advice for the people who were building it. A lot of advice.
“They said, ‘Would it shut you up if we gave you a job?'” he said. So they did. “‘I still haven’t shut up, through. I still tell them what to do.'”
The park is always in flux, whether it’s because of snowfall, changing temperatures or the wear and tear from riders. Laterra and his crew of 10 are out every day making sure everything is safe and in good condition. He also has three snowcat drivers ” Mike Bryson, Sam Pomfly and Vail Demeritt ” who work on the park every night.
During the winter, Laterra doesn’t have a lot of time to ride for fun.
“If I can’t give my personal riding 100 percent, then I can’t throw myself off a 60-foot jump wondering if everything got groomed last night,” he said.
But there’s no way he would want to go back to kitchen work ” he worked at Montauk slinging oysters and clams when he first got to Vail.
In the summer, he works for his own irrigation company.
Laterra has seen Vail’s terrain parks grow in numbers, size and popularity. Vail now has three parks besides the big Golden Peak park. The other parks, which Laterra’s crew also maintains, have smaller jumps and rails for beginners and intermediates.
The features have also grown in size ” both because riders are going bigger and because larger-scale jumps are often safer, providing more room for error.
The longest rail in this year’s park is 60 feet long, and the deck of the largest tabletop is 70 feet long.
“We’re trying to progress as fast if not faster than riders are,” he said.
With the growing popularity of snowboarding as well as twin-tip skis, high-quality parks have become almost a necessity for large ski resorts.
“Unless you’re getting 800 inches of snow a year and you’re really into powder skiing, you’re going to lose business (without a park),” Laterra said.
Laterra doesn’t see the growth of terrain parks tailing off.
“I don’t even see it plateau-ing,” he said.
When Laterra appears in snowboard videos, you can tell he’s a designer. Between clips of him jibbing rails, he’s smoothing a log or raking a halfpipe. He recently appeared in “Bronanza,” “The Color of Silence” and “Sick.”
In “Bronanza,” he falls while trying to slide a street rail in East Vail. He ended up shattering his lower leg into five pieces. His nine-month recovery was faster than what doctors predicted.
Laterra has the litany of injuries that’s pretty much standard for any pro snowboarder. He’s had separated shoulders, broken hands and a cracked shoulder blade.
He competed in The Session rails in 2003 and scored third and fourth place finishes in the 2002 Sims World Championships in Vail. But he doesn’t compete any more.
“I never had fun doing contests,” he said.
The perfectionist park designer is happy with what he’s doing now.
“I love my job,” he said. “I love what I do.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.