After Hours

The secret life of resort terrain parks.

By Kurt Hoy

“Last call” is always a hard concept to swallow. Just when the rail that beat you all season is in your back pocket, Cab nines are finally coming around every time, and there’s even still snow on the ground, resorts go and pull the carpet out from under you.

For most, mid April signals the end. It may be that the Forest Service permit has run its course. It may be economics: after the beer bongs and pond-skimming events of spring break have passed, there’s not much money to be made running chairlifts. For whatever reason, the curtain drops on another season … except for those with an invite. You see, over doesn’t necessarily mean over for everybody. When the general public has accepted its fate, resorts get busy catering to pro riders, filmers, and photographers.

Behind closed doors, snow is pushed up to build the custom features the rest of the world will only see in magazines and videos. Moving, or “pushing,” snow is the difference between an everyday jump and the super-sized ramps and gaps that set apart pro riders and their larger-than-life tricks.

Specialty terrain doesn’t come without a price. The cost of pushing snow is usually measured in “’cat hours,” the amount of time it takes snowcat drivers to shape a feature, double line, or even a run. A single jump, like Mammoth’s 83-foot step-down from Video Gangs, can require upwards of 100 hours of ’cat time–at an estimated cost of 150 dollars an hour!

But for resorts in the game, the return is wholly justified–a few seconds in a video part or a page in TransWorld is enough to establish places like Mammoth, June Mountain, Mount Bachelor, Aspen, and Park City as pro-caliber players.

(Mammoth spread)

“Kids see all this cool stuff at Mammoth, then they come up and find that we have terrain parks for their level, too. We have 65 acres and ten runs dedicated to parks.”–Oren Tanzer, Mammoth Mountain Park Manager