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Calling All Park Rats!

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Alright, so here's the deal...

I've never skied the park (unless you count the one time I half-assed my way off a few of the smallest jumps imaginable and landed like I'd never learned to stand on my own two feet), but I'd REALLY like to learn how.

Now, my mom, paranoid as she is, refuses to let me even go near the park without taking a few lessons first. And, while I don't necesarrily think that this is such a bad idea, I would really like to avoid a situation in which I'm being instructed to ski 'properly.' I learned to ski by trial and error, and for someone who was just shooting in the dark, I'm a pretty damn good skiier...I have no interest in relearning what I already know.

But anyway, I have no idea how I should go about learning to ski the park, and I could use any advice you guys have to offer. Right now, these are my options as I see them...

1. Talk to the instructors at my local mountain (which happens to be Sugarbush) and see what they can do about getting me into a "Park Lesson" if such a thing exists, and end up skiing with some guy I've never met before. (If you didn't pick up on my not-so-subtle tone, I DON'T LIKE THIS IDEA...I taught myself how to ski the groomers, I can teach myself to ski the park. I DON'T WANT TO BE STUCK LEARNING "TECHNIQUE" UNLESS IT APPLIES DIRECTLY TO SKIING THE PARK.)

2. See if I can set aside a day or two to ski with any of the following people:

- My neighbor, who is a ski instructor at Stowe, but who, as far as I know, knows nothing aboiut skiing the park. The benefits of this are that it's free, and I'm very familiar with this person, so it wouldn't be quite so weird as skiing with someone I don't even know. However, being an instructor, she's constantly busy, and will unlikely be able to devote an entire day to me.

- A friend of my mom's who rides ski patrol at Bolton, and who also happens to be a physical therapist, and therefore knows all the ins and outs of skiing injuries and how to prevent them (my mom's chief concern in letting me ski the park). Currently, this guy looks like my best option because we've known each other for a number of years (since I had surgery on my feet in '03), and he REALLY knows his stuff. The only downside...he's ditched me the last two times I've tried to ski with him (both times for very good reasons), and probably isn't the most reliable of instructors.

- A distant relative of mine who works as an instructor at Sugarbush, who has offered to give me free lessons if I ever need them. The bonus here is that she works at Sugarbush and is a nice enough person, but I don't really know her that well, and she usually teaches very small children, potentially meaning that she'd be all but useless in teaching me what I want to know.

3. See what advice you guys could give me on this topic and go from there. (I'd like your advice even if you do reccomend one of the other options). Specifically, I just want to know how to go about taking jumps and rails, and even more so, about how to prepare for these things. Do I just have to suck it up and go for it? Is there a WRONG way to approach a jump/trick/rail/anything else park related? And finally, how do tricks on skis compare to say, tricks off a diving board or on a trampoline? Are these alternative methods a valid way to (safely) train myself for the time when I finally do get the balls to try them on the slopes, or are the two completely incomparable?

Anything and evrything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated.

post #2 of 11

Let's make a deal


I teach at a small hill in Pennsylvania. We have park lessons at our mountain. Before we get to the deal, here are the things you need to know.

Mom's being who they are, the bulk of the park lessons I teach are becomes Mom says "No lesson - no park". A lot of injuries occur in the park. You can't blame Mom.

In the beginning of time, when there were no park lessons, people learned to do park stuff through experimentation and observation. If someone did something cool, everyone else said "I want to do that". If someone crashed and burned, they all said "Ok, we don't do that move." Today, there are many people that still learn to ride in the park from watching other skiers/boarders, watching movies and playing video games and ye olde fashioned trail and error. It can be done this way, but the odds are that you will crash and burn at some point.

Instructors bring 3 things to the table. We've studied all the stuff that works and does not work. We've organized it into learnable chunks. We've trained our eyes to observe what is happening and why things happen. If you take a park lesson, the odds still favor that you will crash and burn at some point. But your crashes should occur less often and be less serious (score one for Mom).

In our park teaching program, instructors must check for the presence of basic skills before we actually tackle park features. If you can't sideslip down a groomed slope, you certainly can't slide a rail. If you do a straight run with your butt hanging behind your heels, there's a good chance you'll blow out your knee landing a big jump. We won't care so much whether you are making "proper turns", but if you can't keep your balance making turns then you've got no business trying to do tricks in the park.

Even if you are a complete dufus without any ability to safely ride any of the park features, we will teach you what skills you need to have and teach you how to inspect park features. Some jumps need spotters, some don't. How do you determine where the best take off and landing positions are? What makes a rail or box or half pipe not safe? You've got lots of those questions. We've got the answers.

Most kids don't need a lot of help in the park after they've started. If they've got a problem doing a specific trick, their friends are good enough to tell them what they see going on and things get worked out. BTW - I'm an old fart. You won't see me doing a 720 over a 40 foot gap jump. You also won't see the kids on our school staff who do that stuff teaching park lessons because they can't be bothered with learning what it takes to teach safe park lessons to kids who are just starting out. You don't need to have a superstar to get you started, but that would be a bonus. Once you get beyond the basics, being able to watch your coach do the trick you want to do is not as important as having a coach who can tell you how to do it, watch what you are doing and tell you how to fix problems. There are some who can do both well. From looking at Sugarbush's web site, it sounds like they have a few such pros on staff. But you need to understand that you don't need Dan Egan to introduce you to the park. Once you've got the basics down, getting help from someone like Dan is going to be a ton better than help from your friends.

Another little secret is that there are good pros and bad pros, good lessons and bad lessons. Whether you take a plain or park lesson from any old Sugarbush pro, the Stowe lady, the patrol guy or your distant relative, there is no guarantee that it will be a good experience. However, if you get coaching from someone with experience teaching in the park and pipe, your odds of a successful session are greater. For most people, this is more important than cost or social compatibility, but that is a call that only you can make.

When I teach an introduction to park lesson, a lot of the content is boring. First I'm going to make sure your helmet fits right and then we're going to review the rules (Slope Style) and etiquette (the proper ways to give respect). As we're headed to the park, we'll practice moves that we'll use for the features that you are interested in. When we get to the park, we're going to "waste" the first run inspecting stuff and "planning" what we're going to do, how we're going to do it and "why". It's easy to get bored if you're expecting to just jump right in it, but that's the difference between doing it on your own and doing it safely. My objective is to get you to the point where you confidently know where to go next. Your objective is that when we're done, when Mom asks what you're doing, you can tell her enough details to bore her to death and stop her from worrying. And if you have to, you can take a run through the park and show her that you can do it without killing yourself.

My advice is to forget the friends and relatives and get a park specific lesson. If you have your mom meet the pro after the lesson, the pro will tell your mom what you are ready to do on your own. You should be ready to play in the park for the rest of the day. For your first day in the park, you won't need help all day. Your mom won't care if you're happy as long as you're safe. If you're safe and happy, then that is a bonus. At least pretend that you are happy with the deal, ok?

So here's the deal:
Take a park specific lesson from a Sugarbush pro.
Ski the rest of the day to practice what you've learned.
Build a list of things you are working on.
When the list is long enough, take another lesson to work on the list.
Thank your pro and your Mom every time and smile when you do it.
Repeat as often as Mom will let you.

With regard to your questions, tricks in other sports will help you do tricks on skis better, but there are some things that are specific to skiing. Self training is always less safe than training under competent coaching.
One more thing: you do have a helmet and know how to wear it properly, right?

Please let us know how things work out. Hopefully, we'll be seeing you on ESPN or FUEL soon!
post #3 of 11

The Nerd Speaks!!!!!

Awesome that you want to get into riding the park. It is very rewarding way to scare yourself silly. My advice, as (the) Rusty gave you very solid advice and you should really listen to him, is that riding with friends really helps.

Aside from having lessons, skiing with friends helps to motivate you. Friends can put a little pressure on you to push yourself to do things you didn't think possible. *words of caution* That is not to say that you should go huck your carcass and try to be superman. But peer pressure does help. If you don't have friends that ski the park, go and talk to some of the people that are. On the chairlift or setting up for a hit, say hi and ask for some advice or just ride with them. Not all park riders are jerks, even though it might seem that way sometimes. Many are real cool and willing to ski with someone else. Headphones don't help communication but eventually their batteries will run out.

Besides, who else is gonna be there watching you to tell you that you are getting a lot better that isn't getting paid?

Say hi to all the cows in VT for me.

post #4 of 11
I'd bet that your area has a great freeride team and program that includes coaches who ski and instruct with the members while they all ski the park and pipe. My oldest Son learned that way and has skied and hung out with most of the big name park rats this country has.

All that said and the advice above is good but you've still got to take your chances, and your lumps and bumps of trial and error. I'm not telling you to go out there and do stupid things and break your neck. But, along with lessons and technique come something that is called "balls" Sometimes that is not easy.

Here's another thing you should think about. Along with the parks and the halfpipes come injuries. You will have them don't kid yourself. My Son has had a broken shoulder, compound fractures of both bones in his left leg, numerous stiches in his chin and eyes, knee problems, back problems.

If you want to play, you will pay. That's a fact.
post #5 of 11
I assume from the way you write, you are quite experienced in the park, Mom just wants to make you think more---which is a good thing. Assuming you have above average skills and can do most features, here is my advice:

1) if mom is paying---GREAT, take advantage--do research and you might get a trip out of it. Lets say there is a top notch park instructor at a mountain you wish to ski.....investigate, make some calls and negotiate with mom---"but mom,,,xyz is the best....don't you want me to learn from the best?, for my own safety?"

2) Talk to the instructor's supervisor..tell them what you are looking for and who you should speak with. Then speak with them, "can I take a run with you and talk? my mom said I have to take a lesson and I want to make sure I get the right instructor......

3) Write a list of questions you have been thinking about. Great conversation starters.

4) Meet with ski patrol---ask to interview a few or ride the chair with some.....You will get real stories that YES---YOU TOO CAN BE PARALIZED. I know you dont think you will be....but before every jump, make sure there is something in the back of your head---placing some caution and making you think. Real stories will go a long way.

5) Some of the best advice I have received is from instructors who were taught by instructors...very simple tips that--when I remember them--make landing as smooth as a baby's bottom. 43 yr old taking 40 footers---when the conditions are right, which is not often.
post #6 of 11
Originally Posted by GregGaspar
4) Meet with ski patrol---ask to interview a few or ride the chair with some.....You will get real stories that YES---YOU TOO CAN BE PARALIZED. I know you dont think you will be....but before every jump, make sure there is something in the back of your head---placing some caution and making you think. Real stories will go a long way.

I know where you're coming from on this, but I'm going to disagree with the way you've presented it. Everytime you jump the thought in your head should be how you're going to do it successfully. If you think about disaster while executing the jump, you're begging for trouble. The time to think about potential problems is when you are inspecting the feature PRIOR to doing it. If you have a doubt while you are approaching a feature (that was not accounted for in your inspection), you should bail.
post #7 of 11
Originally Posted by therusty
Everytime you jump the thought in your head should be how you're going to do it successfully. If you think about disaster while executing the jump, you're begging for trouble. The time to think about potential problems is when you are inspecting the feature PRIOR to doing it. If you have a doubt while you are approaching a feature (that was not accounted for in your inspection), you should bail.
Well said, especially for a (self-described) "old fart"

The former director of snowboarding at my mountain used to say, "File a flight plan before takeoff, then do everything in your power to avoid deviating from it!"

Doubts, little voices in your head, even silly distractions can all lead to mid-air disaster. Case in point: Anyone see the X-Games Moto X competition a few days ago? One of the riders attempted a 360 (which I think is harder than Pastrana's double backflip), but made it less than a third of the way around before deciding to bail out of the spin...needless to say, the landing wasn't pretty.
post #8 of 11
Perhaps I mis-wrote or was interpreted incorrectly. Or maybe I just disagree. Everything I read about folks who do things outside their comfort level---(if they are honest in their answer) agree that there should be some fear and questioning. As opposed to the GO FOR IT attitude. It is from fear/questioning that we run through our flight plan. A pilot who is 100% prepared and sure, would not feel the need to file the flight plan. Rather, he files the plan, becuase deep down--there is fear/questioning. This could be a chicken/egg argument.

NOTE: I agree that one shoudl be fully versed in every aspect of the manuver----before attempting it. But--unless you question and have some fear, you may not be as prepared as you might think.

Jump off a 40 foot cliff into water. One guy (stupid) just has fear and questioning,,how deep is the water, how fast do I have to run to get horizontal distance to clear the rock face, I have never jumped from this high before...wonder what it is like...damm. Oh well! here I go.

The above example is dumb.

However, If the opposite guy started jumping at 10 feet, graduated upto 40 feet in 2 foot increments, dove to the bottom to test water depth, has practiced and knows his spead to clear etc, etc...He should still have some amount of fear..."did I remember to check everthing, what am I missing...nothing..but I better be careful and not be an idiot. don't try a flip yet---do some trampoline work....remember to run, spring, compact, breath---Jump.
post #9 of 11

It's ok to disagree.

I've jumped off a 40 foot cliff. The landing zone was just over 6 foot deep. There was no opportunity to work your way up (unless you wanted to go from 40 to 60 feet). Sure I was scared. But I got instruction about the danger and what to do. I filed the flight plan (jump feet first, keep your arms to your sides and sit after impact and hold until your butt bumps the bottom) and executed it. Stupid? Well, ok. But it's part of growing up and it worked. "Fully versed" is an opinion. When told what to do and watching others do it, I said to myself "I can do that".

One of the guys was going head first from 60 feet. After watching and thinking "nuts" at first, I told myself "I can do that". But I did not because was not sure about what the added dangers were.

You can have "fear and questioning" and a "go for it" attitude. When you are executing a risky move, you need to focus on success. In general, if you are thinking about the bad things that can happen, you are enabling them to happen. But there are cases where you need to be aware of when bad things are starting to happen and what to do in that case. When riding a rail, for example, you need to know that if you start to fall off that the thing to do is to control the fall away from the rail instead of fighting to stay on it. When I ride a rail, I'm focused on edge pressure until I start sliding off, then I focus on letting go. But the point is that "fear and questioning" come before the move and "go for it" happens during the move. Just make sure to not confuse "go for it" with "cawabunga" (starting the move and hoping everything works out).
post #10 of 11
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
But the point is that "fear and questioning" come before the move and "go for it" happens during the move. Just make sure to not confuse "go for it" with "cawabunga" (starting the move and hoping everything works out).
That's exactly what I was trying to say in my previous post. Greg is correct; fear and questioning are not only healthy, they are essential for survival. But as therusty pointed out, the time for fear and questioning is prior to "takeoff". Using the cliff jump example - the time for fear and questioning is well prior to execution. Once you have started your jump, your mind must be completely clear of doubts, lest the survival instinct (otherwise known as the "oh, shit!" mechanism) intervene. Nine times out of ten, nothing bad will happen when the jump is aborted prematurely. However, that tenth time may be the one where you can't stop before the edge, and end up bouncing off the cliff wall on the way down.

The example of the motorcross rider I gave earlier (I wish I could find the video clip) illustrates the danger of deviating from the plan when it's too late. He was already 30 feet off the ground, and 100+ degrees through the spin when he (visibly - you could see his head stopping the spin) aborted. At that point, he no longer had control...he was just along for the ride.
post #11 of 11
Hey dude, I'll tell you my experience learning park.

I seasoned Whistler last winter. I was a pretty good skier to start with but I'd never seasoned a resort before (I come from NZ) and had never really tried park. I could straight air 10 footers, but had no clue on rotations, rails, halfpipes, etc.

A was riding with a mate about 4 weeks into the season, and we had been eyeing up the park for awhile. We eventually decided we would give it a go - actually HE decided he would give it a go, and so I thought 'hells yeah'.

I tried doing some 180's at first off a couple of medium'ish kickers - maybe 10 ft tops. I kept on stacking because I had no idea on how to spot my landing. I was pretty much just jumping, spinning and then praying. It didn't work.

After a couple of runs the humiliation of stacking every kicker got frustrating. (AND THIS IS WHERE I WENT WRONG): So I decided that instead of maybe stopping and getting a lesson on park, I would take a larger runup to the kickers, and go for a 360. My logic was that my rotation wasn't the issue, it was the fact I couldn't see my landing.

Needless to say, it didn't work. It was a pretty good spectacle though. About 270 into the turn, my body stopped rotating. I could see my landing zone disappearing behind me while I was hurling through the air. I overshot the transition by 10 feet and came down in a huge mess. I disastered it in style. Cries of "ooh crap" and "are you alright?" came down from the chairlift right above me and from the people off to the side. Later that day I went to the doctors and found out I'd broken my scaphoid bone in my right wrist.

That was nearly 9 months ago now, and since then I have refractured my scaphoid 3 times (2 at work and 1 when I slipped while walking along a path) - not because I was putting myself at risk, but because the bone has never healed fully from the first fracture. I'm looking at getting surgery on it.

Fracturing that wrist has been the most annoying injury I've ever had - and the most stupid one too.

That being said, I did eventually teach myself to pull 180's, 360's, ride switch, and backflip. All with a broken wrist. (And all without a lesson as well). I still consider last season to be the most fun I've ever had. But for this next one coming, I'll definitely be wearing wrist guards - something that maybe an instructor would have told me right at the start? Who knows.

In my opinion, start with a lesson. At the very least it'll teach you lessons that other people have learnt through their mistakes - without you having to make them yourself.

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