Jeff Rogers was resting, catching his breath after a 50-yard hike with a snowboard from the jump to the terrain park entrance. He had a chance to watch the teenage snowboarders and skiers have a go at the 60-foot-wide feature at Sunday River's
They looked graceful in their various styles of grabbing their boards or crossing their skis. Rogers was particularly watching one rider, his 15-year-old son, Tad, who was enrolled in a weekend academy program. The kid stuck it, no problem.
Rogers, 48, a finance manager from Scituate, waited for the crowd to leave. He steadied his nerves, called on his inner reserves, and launched himself down to the snowy ramp.
He sailed into the air, cleared the jump, but didn't land cleanly and took a spill.
"Three more feet," he said shaking off the snow. "Three more feet and I'll have it."
Rogers is a guy who has marched up to ski New Hampshire's Tuckerman Ravine about 10 times during annual pilgrimages to Mount Washington. He has skied most of his life and took up snowboarding on New Year's Day 1999 when his son did. Rogers doesn't just stick to the trails of a ski area, but heads for the parks and pipes, too, for the challenges and fun they bring.
"You can make me grow old, but you can't make me grow up," Rogers said.
Terrain parks and half-pipes have certainly grown up. When the snowboard first surfaced at ski areas in the late 1970s and early '80s, operators were unsure whether to allow them. Skiers found snowboarders unsettling; they were usually young, and often seemed unruly. Now, with a handful of exceptions (like Vermont's Mad River Glen), snowboarding is everywhere.
Skateboarding's influence was felt in snowboarding's culture, and just as urban skaters used rails, steps, and walls, snowboarders started demanding similar features to play with. Bold ski areas started throwing picnic tables, blue barrels, tractor tires, even school buses into the snow, creating the snowboard park. They did it for the boarders, but they also wanted to keep boarders off stair rails outside base lodges.
Eventually, the parks became accepted (by insurance companies also), and in the 1990s, snowboard parks started to evolve. Over time, skiers entered and with them, a name change: terrain parks, now shared by people on all kinds of boards. Traditional ski reports that provide information on grooming, conditions, and trails now do the same for parks and pipes.
"It's come full circle on some level," said Elia Hamilton, 28, director of freestyle terrain for
"We had a bus at Mount Snow in 1992," he said. "You would jump and slide across."
Southern Vermont is a hotbed of snowboarding culture. It's where Jake Burton Carpentermorphed the snurfer (an early snowboard) into the modern-day snowboard and created Burton Snowboards. Mount Snow is credited with establishing the first snowboard park in the East in 1992, called Un Blanco Gulch, and in 2000 and 2001 hosted the Winter X Games. The US Open draws the masses each year to Stratton for the snowboarding championships. Olympic gold medalists Ross Powers and Kelly Clark came out of southern Vermont, as did X Games ace Hannah Teter.
Nowadays, Stratton, Okemo, Mount Snow, and Killington are making the Top 10 lists in magazines like Transworld Snowboarding under such categories as best park or best pipe.
"What strikes me most about the East Coast is the passion the riders have," said Kurt Hoy, Transworld Snowboarding editor. "Regardless of the conditions, they're riding every day in hard pack, ice, or rain. They've developed the skills to adapt and ride well out there."
Families and recreational riders don't have to launch themselves off daunting walls in a 400-foot-long super-pipe or go sky high off a huge tabletop jump. Mini-pipes and mini-terrain parks have sprouted up across New England.
Jiminy Peak in the Berkshires has three terrain parks, including a beginner area complete with a half-pipe on Coyote Ridge. Closer to Boston, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton plans to introduce its second park this season in the Vickery Bowl area to complement its existing terrain park with seven new rails. The area has invested $72,000 in a Zaugg Pipe Designer, a huge tool that attaches to a grooming machine and sculpts snowy creations.
Maine's behemoths, Sunday River and Sugarbush, are chock full of elements, while resurgent Saddleback up in Rangeley is home to a 200-foot-long half-pipe and various jumps and hits. Under the lights at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, skiers and riders get night air in the park.
In New Hampshire, Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway has the ominous-sounding Darkside Terrain Park, while up the road on Route 302 in Bartlett is an in-ground half-pipe at Attitash that a chairlift passes over. Loon, Waterville Valley, and Sunapee have topnotch parks as well.
Vermont is half-pipe heaven. Music blares and warming huts are packed with air-bound warriors. Huge super-pipes between 400 and 500 feet long can be found at Stratton, Okemo, Mount Snow, Killington (a new 430-foot super-pipe graces Bear Mountain), and Smugglers' Notch, while terrain parks are scattered around ski areas from child-size to those who want to land switch (in the opposite direction from how they started) on the moon.
Safety is a key issue. While trails have the green (easy), blue (intermediate), and black (expert) visual ratings, terrain parks have an orange oval meaning they are part of the National Ski Areas Association's safety plan called "Smart Style." This includes three key messages: Look before you leap, easy style it (translation: Start small and then progress), and respect gets respect. Stratton takes that one step further by requiring riders and skiers to take a 15-minute safety education session, including a four-minute video narrated by Powers before they enter the parks. Do it and get a pass good for a year.
Enter a park and be immersed in the culture. Rails have various shapes and names. The roller coaster rail is just what it sounds like, with waves. A rainbow rail is a huge arc, while the J, C, S, and U rails are shaped like the letters. There are boxes too. Imagine skiing or riding over a coffin.
Then there's the adrenaline rush of the elements, designed to get you higher both into the air or at least above friends who watch. Undulating rollers are like roller coasters, table tops are like flat-topped pyramids, and banked turns are places to lean. The vocabulary is specific too. "Dropping in" means starting down a run or rail. A "yard sale" is what can happen next: a wipe-out sending goggles, hat, and backpack flying.
And there are jumps like what Rogers was trying to conquer that day at Sunday River. He said he had a few sore spots when he woke the next day -- and never did get a clean landing. Not yet.
Marty Basch is a writer in New Hampshire.