THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Playgrounds for Skiers and Snowboarders in New Hampshire

By Bill Pennington
March 26, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • |
Text size +

LINCOLN, N.H.

ABOUT two hours from Boston, Loon Mountain in central New Hampshire sits just off Interstate 93, a north-south highway choked with skiers and snowboard riders on Friday afternoons throughout the winter. Like many a busy snow sports destination, Loon has wrestled with how to keep every sector of its visiting populace happy on its 336 acres.

At one end of its demographic are skiers 45 and older who helped foster Loon’s growth in the previous century and still drive its success by pointing their cars northward from southern New England. Joining them on the I-93 caravan are their children, many of whom are grown and might be snowboarders. Added to the mix are the children of those children, who are more likely to be on whippy, twin-tip skis. And then there are the students who see Loon as one of the perks of attending a New Hampshire college that is close to several skiing and snowboarding areas.

How does one resort serve such diversity?

Increasingly, at Loon and elsewhere, the answer has been strategically placed and shrewdly designed terrain parks — snow playgrounds with jumps, ramps, sliding rails and other tricked-up features — that segregate the populace, although not necessarily in an overbearing way. But it does make sense to keep those who want to play in the parks away from those who do not.

This sensible goal, however, is not as simple as building a superpipe and bolting a bunch of rails into the hill. Among other things, park etiquette and protocols need to be taught, since safety is an overriding concern at resorts — with good reason, since jumps and other features have been getting bigger and more risky.

At the same time, resorts have to find ways to nurture park beginners so that they will progress to an advanced level. This is good business: no one will keep at a snow sport without becoming at least somewhat proficient. So operators need a large, experienced park tribe to justify the cost of building and maintaining the complicated, outsize terrain parks now common at large resorts.

“You have to build a place that is attractive to teens, which means it has to be perceived as something just for them and away from the mainstream,” said Jay Scambio, a terrain park development manager for Boyne Resorts, which owns Loon. “Then you have to say, ‘O.K., but there are rules here.’ ”

“It can be a little tricky,” he added. “You really want this age group, because they are the biggest growth sector. But you can’t just let them do whatever they want in your parks.”

Can there be laws in an outlaw culture? At Loon, home to some of the most popular terrain parks in New England, they believe it’s possible.

It is common at many resorts to require education programs for anyone entering a terrain park. Visitors need a special pass to play in the park, and the only way to get one is to watch a 10-to-15-minute video in the lodge beforehand.

Loon took a different route, introducing an online quiz on its Web site (loonmtn.com) called Peeps (Park Education and Etiquette Program). During a quiz that takes about 15 minutes, snowboarders and skiers see tutorials on terrain park signs and other fundamentals that foster safe behavior. The lessons are grouped in chapters with a quiz at the end of each. Users cannot advance to the next chapter until passing the preceding quiz. The quiz is narrated, with charts and illustrations demonstrating certain moves and techniques. And there are many messages along the way, like this one: “Respect gets respect. No one likes a punk.”

Successfully completing the quiz generates a voucher that can be redeemed for various services and prizes at Loon and from neighborhood sponsors.

“We didn’t want to turn anyone away, and we thought if it was fun, the kids might learn more,” Mr. Scambio said of the program.

It doesn’t take long to see that Loon has attracted a devoted terrain park following. Mr. Scambio said that preteens, teenagers and college students once bought about 17 percent of all tickets at Loon three years ago. That figure is now closer to 35 percent.

“I started coming five years ago with my parents, and at first I just went to the small parks,” said Jason Brown, 14, of Mattapan, Mass. “Now I practically live in the big one, LMP. Basically, I go there all day and don’t go anywhere else.”

LMP is Loon Mountain Park, the resort’s nearly mile-long signature park, and it has a lot of appeal — big jumps, several rails, boxes and a 36-foot wall ride. It’s a long, wild trip down, not for beginners. But Loon has a handful of smaller parks, where novices can introduce themselves to scaled-down versions of features common to terrain parks. Those are pressure-free places to practice and develop.

A standard lift ticket — daily prices range from $43 to $73 — is good for access to all trails and parks.

It’s easy to see that the science of building terrain parks has come a long way in a decade.

“We’ve learned, for example, that it’s very important to build in obvious places for people to stop,” Mr. Scambio said during a tour of LMP in December. “One, you want people to catch their breath. Then maybe they will think and plan the rest of their trip down. Two, you want to show them where it’s safe to stop, so they don’t stop where it’s dangerous to stop. And three, let’s face it, part of the park culture is watching other people.”

Loon is not, by a long shot, entirely about its terrain parks. It’s a big mountain with more than 2,000 feet of vertical-drop and top-to-bottom trails, tree skiing and bump runs. It’s a pleasant, wide-open skiing and riding mountain. Last year Loon also opened a $16 million expansion, South Peak, that offers views of Franconia Notch and several new trails, including Loon’s first double-black-diamond trail, Rip Saw.

For about another three weeks, there will be distinctive, and often delightful, spring skiing conditions in New Hampshire. On a recent visit to the region, visitors were making turns in the soft snow wearing T-shirts or wind breakers.

“The goal is to make everyone feel like they belong,” Mr. Scambio said. “That’s not always easy with a snow sports market that’s changing every 5 or 10 years. But we’re trying.”

Connect with Boston.com

Twitter Follow us on @BostonUpdate, other Twitter accounts