I recently got to chat with Tim Eastley the Terrain Parks Manager for SnowBasin, UT. What follows is a collection of his thoughts and observations about the industry as well as the answers to questions submitted by the EpicSki community.
Photo Credit: Llew Wenzel, Wenzel Studio
Tim was an avid skier/snowboarder from a young age; in college he was competing in freestyle events and boarder cross as well as working for the Ski Patrol at Seven Springs, PA. Seven Springs wanted to build their first Terrain Park and asked Tim to help since he had experience competing in freestyle events. (As an interesting aside Tim mentioned that they told him to build whatever type of terrain park he wanted, just no rails because they felt that would be too dangerous. Today it’s morphed into every resort has a bunch of rails and a few jumps). He worked with Ski Patrol for a year then transitioned to Mountain Safety and Terrain Parks. After a few years he transitioned to just working with the parks.
Tim worked at Seven Springs for six years before moving over to Laurel Mountain, PA for a year. He picked the location, came up with policies, oversaw having a rope tow put in, and designed/built their first terrain park.
All through college he ran a ski club and took frequent trips out west; upon graduation he decided to move out west. A job opened up at Breckenridge, CO. There had been a management change and there was a job opening as the Operations Supervisor that he ended up taking on. During his tenure there they went from two parks and a pipe to five parks and four pipes. He was working overseeing the Terrain Parks from 1999-00 until 2007 when he moved to SnowBasin for the winter of 2008 where he’s worked as the Terrain Parks Manager ever since.
How do you balance setting up the park for the small numbers of skiers and boarders who do huge airs and amazing tricks and those who cruise occasionally to do small jumps and try stuff? @river-z (also answers @kbat11700 question)
That’s an industry problem. When resorts like Breckenridge, Mammoth, Park City, or a Sun Valley—they’re aspirational ski resorts—they’re building for that person that has an aspiration to be a professional, to compete at a high level, so they build those big jumps. When you look at the rider traffic on those big features, there’s very very little use. If you look at how many people ride the big features compared to the medium to the small, very few ride the big.
For a while in the industry everyone was building the big terrain and it’s gone away from that. They’ve realized that without the small and medium there’s no learning progression. The industry itself has gone towards building more small and medium features so you can get the riding public up to those bigger features.
At SnowBasin we are a family friendly resort. I believe we are the best day area out there. We have something for everybody, all levels of families can come and have fun and ski our resort no problem. That’s what our terrain park system wants to be. We build small and medium features only.
As a fan of terrain base learning, I have noticed the huge popularity of the beginner park under Little Cat lift. It seems to appeal to all ages and levels of riders and tends to get much more crowded than the other parks. Any plans to add something with more length on easy blue type terrain? The rollers are especially useful in skill development but I would also be interested in small table tops, berms, spines, 1/4 pipes etc. @4ster
Yeah, so when you build parks you’re building off the slope of the terrain. I’ve tried to build a cross course for the public, and it doesn’t get as much traffic as that little park does. I don’t know why the little park is so popular, it’s a little family cross with rollers and banked turns; it gets so much traffic on our beginner run, but when you take that up a level it doesn’t seem to get that same amount of traffic that you would expect.
Logistically you have to consider what run could we use? Is there snowmaking? What pitches are in the run? You have to work off the degrees of the run. If it’s too steep people will get too much speed and too much air and have issues. If it’s too small they’ll have problems that they can’t get over the features. We realize and we recognize the popularity of that beginner run and there is no great way to make a medium sized version of that at our resort at this time. We’re looking, and I’ve tried at other resorts. But it’s just not as popular as you’d think it would be when you look at how popular little stuff is.
When you build a series of multiple jumps, do you use math formulas to calculate the ideal height and distance at a certain speed to size and space them properly or is it done more intuitively from experience? @obsessed
We don’t use formulas per se because of the way that snow changes throughout the day, it’s not like building a wooden ramp that you have 100% control of how the material changes. There is no mathematical formula that says this will works perfectly. What we’ll do is we’ll go in and build the biggest landing we can with the snow that we have. Then we’ll add the takeoff after that. We know that we want to make the first jump say 20 feet. We’ll build the biggest landing we can; it’s cut the steepest we can because the Snow Cat can only climb so steep for maintenance. From there we’ll build the takeoff and test the jump with a rider to gauge the speed into the next jump.
Then you will build the second landing as big as you can and have it the distance apart that it’s groomable and build your second takeoff then test them in series. These jumps, we don’t say we want to do a 30, 50, and 60 because it might change when we get on the hill. The first jump might be 30 but the next one with the speed coming up might only be 40 and the last one 70. It all depends on the slope and the amount of snow you produce.
With a little bit of snow you can’t go out there and make a big jump. There’s a lot of prior experience that goes into it as well as some math like trajectories, force vectors, and angles. We follow industry best practices when we’re creating things in the park.
Super Pipe at Snow Basin from the 2011 Dew Tour Championships
Photo Credit: Tyler Wenzel
What has changed the most in terrain park design in the last eight years since you started at SnowBasin? @dbostedo
What’s changed most is the resorts wanting to build large features; it used to be everyone wanted to build the biggest, the baddest jumps out there. Now resorts realize you have to have a progression. You have to have the small and the medium before people can ride the big. In the past it might have been 60% large and 20% of each small and medium. Now you’ll see the minority is the large features on the hill.
What has changed the most in terrain park skiers in the last eight years? @dbostedo
At first when we were building parks they were built for snowboarders. The first parks we snowboard only, skiers weren’t allowed to use them. Mogul runs were for the skiers and they built these parks to keep these degenerate snowboarders away from people. All of a sudden twin tip skis come along and now you’ve got kids that are doing so many tricks skiing switch into these jumps and it’s—I think—it’s more impressive to watch skiing halfpipe or freestyle over snowboarding just for the level of difficulty. You’ve got poles and skis and they’re going in it backwards. You know dropping into a 22 foot halfpipe is hard enough going forwards, and you’ve got these guys going in switch on skis, it’s just amazing.
I think the level of skier has blown up in the last few years and it’s amazing to watch. There’s more trick progression on the skier side than the snowboard side.
Are there any features you’ve wanted to design but not been allowed to? @dbostedo
I’ve been pretty lucky through my career having the confidence of the Ski Patrol and Mountain Management to be able to build pretty much anything we’ve wanted to for the hill. We’re not out there building anything that’s like gap jumps or anything that we feel is dangerous for the public.
I’ve had some rail designs we’ve talked about designing for contests or photo shoots. I’ve got some big natural gap locations at Snow Basin for photoshoots. There’s nothing that really stands out in my mind to say I’ve not been allowed to build.
Is it more challenging doing park design as a smaller place like Seven Springs or a larger place like SnowBasin?
Seven Springs, when I started there, it was just starting out as a Terrain Park resort. The resort itself has a really good snowmaking system; that is one of the keys to having a good park, having a good snowmaking system. You can’t really do much with natural snow. At a resort like Seven Springs I don’t see it being any different than a big resort like Breckenridge or SnowBasin.
They have the snowmaking capacity and they have the wherewithal to say we have to build parks to bring people in. The places it would be hard to build a park at would be the small mom and pop places that have an antiquated snowmaking system, minimal water, and minimal cats. If you don’t have water and a snowmaking system it makes it very hard to build terrain parks and be creative. You could do it with some dirt work if it was a private area to save yourself some snowmaking.
But a lot of the resorts are on public land and you can’t just go in and do dirt work on public land. With the Forest Service you have to do all kind of environmental protection studies, so if you do the studies and get qualified you can do some dirt work that will save you some snowmaking, but the key to a good terrain park is snowmaking dedication, cat dedication, and the right runs.
Notoriously all your ski school teaching runs are the same runs that we want to build parks on because it’s that same pitch that we want. So the people that have been making money for the resort for years in the ski school already have claim to that terrain. So you have to make a business decision about what runs to turn into parks and what to not turn into parks.
There’s a small percentage of people that are riding parks, and they don’t pay extra to do it, they just buy a lift ticket. But you have people coming in to learn to ski paying extra to learn. You have to give them a good experience with plenty of terrain to get them to come back.
By Tyler Wenzel