Safety programs cover new terrain
Area snowboarders welcome changes
The last thing a snowboarder like Tanner McCarty wants to do when he’s ready to ride the rails or hit the jumps in a terrain park is wait.
“At some areas you’re not allowed to ride until a test and it’s like ‘Oh man, we have to do this,’ ’’ said McCarty, 20, a slopestyle-favoring University of Vermont sophomore from Boxford, Mass., who competes in pro-am contests.
With swarms of snowboarders and skiers taking to New England’s terrain parks, several ski areas — with safety and education in mind — require them to watch a video and take a quiz before getting a pass allowing them to enter.
But those tests have changed, shifting from on-site to online and allowing the process to largely be done before making the trip to the slopes. The move embraces technology and also addresses issues of time and convenience for park users shelling out money for lift passes at the ticket windows and then having to go through a lengthy program before touching snow.
The central theme is the safety program called Smart Style, unveiled in 2004 by the National Ski Areas Association. Akin to the Your Responsibility Code that tackles the slopes and trails, the program encourages terrain park users to look before you leap, respect gets respect, and make a plan. Large orange oval signs at park entrances explain it all as do sections of ski area websites.
The pass programs go beyond that.
In southern Vermont, Stratton’s longstanding mandatory Safety Education Session to access all of its parks has been cut from about a 40-minute mid-mountain program with a 12-minute video to a short online video followed by five questions that takes maybe 15 minutes.
Wachusett in Princeton, Mass., now allows parksters an online option for the mountain’s signature Look Mom park while Boyne Resorts Loon, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf have rolled out a voluntary online program called PEEPs (Park Education and Etiquette Program).
Stratton’s initiative began in 2003, initially targeting the bigger and more advanced parks. But that has developed to include every park and all levels of skiers and riders from those using the huge Supertrail park in Sun Bowl to learning in the festive Kids Parkway.
“Basically we brought Smart Style to the next level here at Stratton,’’ said safety and compliance manager Kathy Buckley. “We’re promoting a culture of safety, courtesy and respect.’’
With between 14,000 and 16,000 SES pass users annually, Stratton streamlined the process to online a few years ago. View the video, pass the quiz, fill out the registration, gather your ID number, and bring it to the mountain for the free park pass. There are even computers scattered around the resort to use if needed.
Even adults do it.
“They have to go through it as well,’’ said Buckley. “I tell them I can educate your kid, but I need your help. For the most part, they’re glad they did it.’’
Buckley said park injuries have dropped dramatically because of the sessions.
Wachusett developed its online program last winter, but is heavily promoting it this season. The 13-minute online video is followed by a 10-question true/false test. Print it out and bring it to customer service with $5 for the pass. There’s still an on-site option too.
“The reason we do this is to make sure people don’t go beyond their ability,’’ said spokesman Tom Meyer.
Required for the mid-mountain park but not smaller Frannie’s Folly, Meyer said the bottom line is to make park users more aware of what they are doing and to start small. The biggest users are 13- to 18-year-olds, followed by the 18-to-24-year-old set.
“In our new technology world, they know what they want,’’ said Meyer.
Instead of park rangers or ski patrols checking passes, Wachusett last month made the passes a little more technology-friendly. Radio frequency identification cards have a chip that a scanner reads to open a turnstile-like gate at the park entrance.
With voluntary PEEPs, online users have about a 10-minute experience with a South Park tone that includes three quizzes and information (also included at other areas) on ATML: approach, takeoff, maneuver, and landing. The free pass also enters them into raffles.
“We want people to come and have fun in our terrain parks but we also want them to learn about what they are doing,’’ said Boyne terrain park development manager Jay Scambio.
A snowboarder like McCarty didn’t think PEEPs was lame.
“I’d like to see more people check it out,’’ he said. “It’s simple, no classes, just online. It’s good for everyone, especially for people checking out Loon and maybe going for the first time.’’