Experimental Utopia – Danny Davis’s Peace Park
By Joel Muzzey
The Growlers' greasy, hairy little singer pranced around the stage with a hand on his hip moaning into the mic while his band strummed out jangly, psychedelic beach goth for the half-full ski lodge bar crowd. The band had to be wondering how the hell they ended up in Wyoming on a Wednesday night in April. The locals looked a little puzzled by the whole scene, too. But not Mikkel, Danny, Jack or the rest of snowboarders dancing around with beers raised overhead. They knew exactly what they were doing here. Partying.
Meanwhile, up beyond Targhee's resort boundary in a catski-only zone known as Kansas, the headlights of three Prinoth park cats glowed through the darkness as the crew from Snow Park Technologies worked the graveyard shift beneath the moonlight and the jagged silhouette of the Tetons. When the sun came up a few hours later there would be no icy, early morning pipe practice or high-stress qualifiers. No coaches or judges. No bibs, no Jumbotrons, and no mandatory doubles. None of the normal contest crap. Not at Peace Park.
When Danny Davis hatched the idea for this event three years ago it was in reaction to the above-mentioned crap. He explains, "We have to start changing these halfpipes and slopestyle courses, or else it just gets stale. The sport becomes stale. It also becomes more about how many spins and flips you can do, because that's all that's left to do. When the transition doesn't change, the jumps don't change--it all goes to flipping more, spinning more. I think in a big way, what's so rad about Peace Park, and what's so boring about the current state of snowboarding, is you have slopestyle riders, pipe riders, backcountry riders, big mountain--it's so segregated. The whole purpose of creating Peace Park was to bring it all together, to experiment with transition and jumps. See what's possible. And it's not just halfpipe. It's not just slopestyle. It's everything. It's not about going to a jump contest and being like, 'I learned that triple cork last week. Now, I'm here and I can lay it down on the big air.' It's like, no. It's about being a good all-around rider; having fun and getting inspired to try new things and learning how to ride new stuff."
As the event has evolved through the years, so has Danny's vision, "When I first started this, I was pretty anti-contest, to me it was all about changing contests. But I realize we've gotta have normal contests, too, they're important for the sport. But if I'm doing my own event, I want it to be the complete opposite of a standard contest. When I was younger, the vibe at the top of the pipe during contests was way more fun, more like a party. And that's the vibe I want for Peace Park. Contests now are just so serious--it's lame. After doing Peace Park a few times, I see how much that good vibe adds to the event. It really changes everything when the scene is just more mellow and everybody is relaxed."
For the average rider, the 22-foot walls of a Superpipe and the 60-foot jumps on a slopestyle course provide more than enough creative challenges. But for riders competing at the highest level, like Scotty Lago, it can be limiting. "You have no choice," he says, "you have to do the hardest run you've got because you're trying to get as many points as you can. You practice that run over and over to get it all locked down, then you basically do that same run every weekend from December 'til the end of March. Honestly, after a gnarly winter competing in Olympic qualifiers and all that stuff, coming to Peace Park feels like a party."
For Finnish slopestyle specialist Roope Tonteri, it's the same story, "I do a lot of contests, so it's always the same run, and it's boring, [laughs] but if you want to do good, you're going to have to do that run. This is why every year I'm looking forward the whole season to come for a week and ride with my friends in the Peace Park. It's always good for my riding, as well, because here you can get creative. You ride stuff you never get to ride--even some stuff that's never been built before."
The Jerky Boys
Snow Park Technologies has been involved with event since day one. Danny explains why, "On a project like Peace Park, we always work with SPT. They're the best and they're the only people who can handle a build like this. They're the only guys with the talent to do all this work...plus getting the cats here, getting the Zaugg cutter here, then all the man hours from super early in the morning to way late at night, and eating Gummy Bears and beef jerky for dinner. They're really the only option in the snowboard building world." And whether they're designing a new resort park, building X Games courses, or sculpting fresh features for Peace Park, SPT founder and frontman Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson believes that, "everything SPT does is in the spirit of progressing the sport, creating venues that are going to allow the athletes to shine at their highest level." He calls working on Peace Park with Danny, "sort of a dream project. It's been this creative process that we don't get on a lot of other jobs. Everyone gets super excited about this opportunity to truly experiment with a creative build that's going to lead to creative riding." SPT project manager and pipe-cutting wizard Frank Wells adds that, "the build at Peace Park is quite a bit different than the other events we do--like X Games and the Dew Tour--where we're just building pipes and jumps. Here it's more finding what works where on the hill to make it flow more like a skatepark." And like the riders, the SPT crew welcomes the chance to switch things up, "I think the most exciting part about a build like this, for all of us, is that it's a little bit of a blank canvas where we can get creative with the cats,"says Wells.
Since first taking shape as Peace Pipe in the spring of 2011 at Northstar, the event has continued to evolve. "It has all been a big experiment. Year one, we took a conventional pipe and broke the mold," Gunnarson says, "adding hips, channels, gaps, and rails to allow for more creativity than what we see in a traditional halfpipe." For year two at Squaw, the design expanded beyond the walls of the pipe, "Now we're calling it Peace Park," he says. "Building on what we did in year one, we started adding more elements around the outside of the pipe, more jump stuff, more hip stuff, the bowl at the bottom--creating a fully session-able zone. And what we've learned from the past is that the more lines that we can create, and the more opportunities to have multiple riders in the mix at one time, the better."
This year's set-up, Danny says, "is not even close to what we've done in years past. It's just on a way bigger scale. It's like a top-to-bottom run, 1,200 vertical feet of jumps, banks, hips, quarter pipes...then you can re-enter into the pipe through a channel and there's a 22-foot deep bowl at the bottom."
After two years in Tahoe, Danny and the crew went on the hunt for a new location, a place, Gunnarson says, "that was really in the spirit of Peace Park. It had to be a little bit gritty, a little organic," and most importantly, it needed that key ingredient, "ten feet of solid snowpack," Danny says, "it had exactly what the SPT guys needed," plus some serious vertical that included treed zones and natural contours that they worked into the build. This "little gem" called Grand Targhee, Danny explains, "is located in Wydaho, a mixture of Wyoming and Idaho. It's in the Western Tetons and you get a sick view of the actual Tetons themselves. It's just a little mom and pop resort that's tucked away--it's a beautiful spot." With the new location settled, Danny and SPT got to work on the design. This process starts by squeezing meetings in between Danny's Olympic and filming obligations where he can share ideas with SPT. What's possible? What's almost impossible but worth a try? How can we push the design further than last year?
Danny explains, "I wanted to have some sort of banked slalom. Then if we got a crappy weather day, we'd have the banked slalom--I wanted riding for all kind of conditions. I've also always wanted a bowl at the bottom of the pipe, like Holy Bowly style. This year, we finally got that 22-foot bowl! They also got 10 other features ranging from standard tabletops to an 80-foot wide off-camber quarterpipe and an 18-foot tall diamond-shaped volcano above the pipe drop-in. What the SPT guys did," he says, "is take all my ideas and the features I said I wanted, then just stretched everything out and made it. There's never been something built like this before. It's the full dream park, this one."
As the riders fired up a session on the pair of pipeside hips, two Vermont buzzards from a band called Gold Town belted out high-energy bluegrass at the drop-in. A crowd of media, local lurkers, family, and friends ripped cold brews in the sunshine cheering for Ulrik Badertscher, Ben Ferguson, and the rest of the boys to go bigger. That vibe Danny hoped to create seemed to be happening naturally. Taking a break from his whiskey-fueled play-by-play commentary, Jack Mitrani jumped up and joined the hillbilly duet for a song called "Flat Landings." It goes like this,
Flat landing, bruisin' my heels
Every time I hit the bottom
You just don't know how it feels
Flat landing won't keep me down for good
Every time I get a good hit
Feels like I'm brand new
A Friendly Gathering
With SPT pushing snow at Targhee for almost two weeks leading up to the event, word got out to the nearby Jackson Hole locals that Peace Park was coming to town. When the crew of Travis Rice, Bryan Iguchi, Mark Carter, Rob Kingwill, and Cam Fitzpatrick showed up, it was high fives all around. "You could see the park from miles away on the road driving in," says Bryan Iguchi. After a few top-to-bottom laps through, this is what he had to say, "This is the best of the best, the features are incredible. You just don't see this kind of stuff every day. To be in Wyoming and come over and see this, from my early beginnings building parks in Big Bear, this is just awesome. I love what Danny is doing. It's all about bringing people together and being able to have features for everybody. Some people shine on the jumps, some people shine more on the halfpipe. To be able to have that combination and feed off each other, I think it's a great environment for good riding to go down."
Riders bounced from feature to feature, stretching the daily sessions into the sunset hours until darkness and fatigue eventually forced the action back down to the mountain base. In addition to adding live music to the Peace Park schedule, the riders were all staying together this year. Mikkel Bang approved, "Off the hill it's pretty cool too, because we're all staying at the same lodge. We've got instruments, we've been jamming at night, drinking beers--it's been a blast." The guy in charge of making sure the blast didn't turn into a blowout is Burton's Bryan Knox, "We rented this whole lodge out, and my concern is partying--which is all cool, as long as everyone gets up in the morning. But there are three places open here at Targhee right now. Two are restaurants, and one is a bar--and that bar is about 85 feet from our lodge. You get this group together and it could be mayhem."
It actually never hit mayhem level but Knox's fatherly concerns were timed perfectly with a bad weather day that gave the riders a rest and the SPT crew a chance to make adjustments on the features. When the sun returned, riding resumed and each day after the session, the whole crew would slide back down to the Teewinot Lodge for the event's other new addition: the contest part. "To continue making Peace Park better," Danny says, "we wanted to add a contest element this year, just to reward people for killing it but not to take away from the freedom we have of just riding all day and having fun." The format could not have been any looser and worked like this: the riders watched each other throughout the day as they rode, then back at the lodge they submitted ballots for daily MVPs and standout stunts. Obviously everyone in attendance felt like a winner but official recognition went to Gabe Ferguson, Mark McMorris, Arthur Longo, Charles Reid, and at the top of everyone's list, Ben Ferguson. "Ben ripped so hard every day, on every feature," Danny says. "Just his style and the fact that he can ride everything with such control, it's like the Peace Park was made for him." And even though Ben doesn't own a truck, he was pretty excited to win a camper. The recognition from the guys really got to him, too, "There's so many good snowboarders here," Ben says, "and being on a list with all these dudes is an honor, a lot of them I've looked up to since I was super young--this whole thing was so sick, I'm super honored."
Yup, Peace Park was great. Again. And already, Danny says, "the gears are turning for next year--I've got all kinds of ideas!" By this point you may be thinking, that's cool--if you get invited. Yes, Peace Park is exclusive. All this work--something like 1,000 cat hours--for just 15 or 16 riders. Yes, it was brought to you by Mountain Dew and Burton so it's not really certified organic. And no, you weren't invited. But look at the positives. With the level he's at, Danny could be doing anything he wants, including just going on trips to ride powder all winter. Or building a secret training facility to ride by himself. Instead, he's funneling his resources into showing his friends and snowboarders everywhere a good time. He's helping push the boundaries of terrain park design and he's putting on an event that reflects what riders want, creative freedom. "I'm just one guy," Danny says, "I'm not going to change snowboarding, I'm just doing what I can to push it in the right direction."
And because he was the first-ever Peace Park champ, Ben Ferguson gets the last word, "I just want to say thanks, Dan."