The first-ever Cutters Camp did more good for the progression of snowboarding at resorts than any other meeting, conference, or activity in the last several years. It took place as a completely behind-the-scenes experiment two weeks ago at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon, so most in the world of snowboarding will never realize the event happened or the impact it will have on the sport. But if they’re riding terrain parks or pipes next season, they might just experience some of the affects.
The Cutters Camp was the brainchild of Day Franzen, Heavenly’s terrain park manager, who has also worked at Mountain High, Mammoth, and Timberline the last several years. His idea was simple: get terrain park managers, builders, and groomers from across the country together to discuss what they’re doing and share ideas. After pitching the idea to the staff at Timberline (home of multiple year-round parks and pipes), Timberline’s Director of Operations Steve Kruse and Grooming Manager Jeff Flood supported the idea, and asked Ski Area Management (SAM) to get involved on the organizational side. With sponsorship from Salomon, PistenBully, Premier Snowskates, Bombardier, Burton Snowboards, Zaugg AG Eggiwil, Snowboarder Magazine, and Acordia, things got moving, and the conference turned out to be way more successful than anyone thought.
Ironically, Franzen did not attend because his employer, Vail Associates, choose to not send any representatives from its five resorts. Several other big-name resorts and top terrain park builders opted out as well, which was too bad for them. The conference was deemed a sell-out, drawing more than 80 people from 40 different resorts including places like Squaw Valley, CA; Brighton, UT; Brandywine, OH; Ski Sundown; CT; Whitetail, PA; Bogus Basin, ID; Stratton, VT; Jackson Hole, WY; Hunter, NY; Mountain Creek, NJ; Mission Ridge, WA. Organizer and SAM Associate Publisher Olivia Rowan noted that there’s already a waiting list for next year’s event, filled with resort employees who couldn’t get in to this year.
The four-day schedule had a packed-full agenda, which included on- and off-hill activities, meetings, and plenty of schmoozing. After an intro dinner and cocktail party on Sunday night (the arrival day), things formally got started on Monday, with a full day of meetings held in the majestic Timberline lodge.
The morning session started out with Big Bear Mountain Resorts Mountain Ops Manager Karl Klouzer showing images of Bear Mountain this year. Bear Mountain was bought by Snow Summit last fall and turned into an all-mountain terrain park, with approximately 150 terrain features built on 20 different runs. It’s definitely the most advanced resort in the freestyle-terrain world and is pushing the level of park riding farther than any other resort. When Klouzer told the crowd the size of the resort (175 acres) and the fact that they have twelve snow cats grooming every night, the audience laughed in slight disgust. Most said they were lucky to have one or two cats to groom the terrain parks and pipes they have at their own resorts.
From there, a general session on park and pipe design began, and topics such as flow, visibility, layout, spacing, and utilization of natural terrain in the park were discussed. The panel included Klouzer, Park City Terrain Park Supervisor Jim Mangan, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies Terrain Park Supervisor Jeff Patterson, Sunday River Terrain Park Manager Josh Lempert, Timberline’s Kruse, Heine Tools Owner Kurt Heine, and Stimilon Owner Dave Olcott.
The question and answer period was lively, and the crowd asked numerous questions. Panelist would get up and draw pictures of different jumps to better explain things, and at one point a video was shown of Stratton’s U.S. Open Snowboarding halfpipe being built. The three-hour session could have lasted much longer.
Dave Olcott pointed out the dilemma resorts have when dealing with customers. They have to market theesort to the ego of all types of riders. Parks need to look cool to the most advanced boarders so they’ll feel challenged, but, he pointed out that resorts should build to the ability of the majority of the clientele.
Several different resorts said they actually detune their parks during weekends and holidays, knowing that the level of riders at that time will be lower than those of the mid-week enthusiasts.
Another suggestion was that if a resort doesn’t mix up its park, riders will get bored with it. The resorts could spent time rebuilding the park and changing the features such as jumps, rails, and boxes completely. By doing this, riders will be challenged by the new features, but the resort won’t be pressured to just make things bigger and bigger.
Most agreed that having music in the park and pipe was a good thing for the customers, and some resorts actually script the type of music playing throughout the day, or put in safety messages or special promos between songs.
On the topic of building pipes: “Build a pipe right the first time, because it’ll be in the same place all season,” suggested Flood.
When building a pipe, Patterson suggested that resorts should blow snow above the area where they want to build the pipe and then push it down to the area and compact it. If they build the pipe by just blowing huge snow whales for each wall, the consistency of snow will be mixed up and you’ll end up with air pockets.
The Okemo park crew suggested to build walls of dirt above ground and not dig out the ground. Someone also suggested that a resort could build just one wall of dirt for a pipe, and build the other wall out of snow. It would help the pipe be built much more quickly and require less snow, but wouldn’t cause the centering problems many encounter when building a pipe dug out of dirt. But someone added to make sure the dirt wall was the cold wall (the one in the shade most of the day) so it wouldn’t melt as quickly and develop dirt spots.
The crew broke for lunch and Premier Snowskates hosted a BBQ for the attendees, then everyone had two hours to get out and ride the snowskate park or hit Timberline’s slopes. With several inches of new snow, May powder took on new meaning, especially for some of the attendees from the East Coast where resorts have been closed for more than a month.
The afternoon session was a continuation of the first, focusing more on the construction of terrain features that had been discussed in the first meeting. This panel included Big Bear Mountain Resorts’ Klouzer, Patterson, Flood, Lempert, Copper Mountain Park And Pipe Foreman Jason Gussas, and Kirkwood Terrain Park Manager Sorley Howard.
The final session of the evening featured Burton Snowboards Jeff Boliba discussing the Smart Style program that Burton has developed with the NSAA, which has introduced a new resort sign symbol to represent freestyle terrain: the orange pill. He also discussed several different terrain-park safety case studies and talked about ways resorts were dealing with terrain park issues.
Booth Creek Vice President of Risk Management Mark Petrozzi touched on some current legal issues facing resorts. He pointed out it was important to identify the age of customers and their expectations at the resort, and how to deal with them.
By the time the group got to the Cinco de Mayo Mexican Fiesta dinner hosted by PistenBully, everyone felt they had already gotten their money’s worth out of the conference, and it was just the first day! People couldn’t believe the valuable information they’d heard, and also the fact that they had now met many of their peers dealing with the same issues, and could now bounce ideas off of each other. And after several margaritas and cervases, people had no problem talking to each other, sharing ideas, telling stories, and exchanging cards.
Log on to www.transworldsnowboarding.com tomorrow for Day 2 coverage from the Cutters Camp, presented by SAM and Timberline Lodge.e.