Better Terrain Parks: A Challenge to Ski Area Management

Note: this is really meant for the small ski areas that pepper the Midwest, parts of the Ice Coast and Mid-Atlantic regions. I guess if you are Snowbird in UT, you can get away without having a decent terrain park because you’ve got plenty more to offer. 

At some ski areas, park riders and skiers are treated like second-class citizens. The terrain parks are often the least-accessible trails, with the poorest grades and often poor layouts that really aren’t conducive to good park flow. Adding insult to injury, some areas actually leave maintenance up to the customers — a practice which usually means the lips & landings are are in woefully poor shape.

But before I talk about the bad and the ugly I want to highlight the good. Here is the park plan for Cannonsburg Ski Area, outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Weather permitting, they are going to absolutely slay it this winter.

cannonsburg park plans winter 2012

Cannonsburg Ski Area's 2012 terrain park plans

And here is a good looking mini park from Alpine Valley, Michigan. It may not look like much but they’ve only received like 4″ of natural snow so far this year and they’re able to still set up a small park with some decent flow and varied features.

Is your ski resort at least putting forth the effort to make the nicest terrain park they can?

A Challenge to Ski Area Management

If you are a resort manager or a terrain park manager, go out at 6 or 7pm on a Wednesday night or at 1pm on a Saturday and observe the park for a few minutes. Do you see any of the following?

  • Crowds and line-ups in the park while other trails are nearly empty.
  • Crowds and line-ups for some features while others are untouched.
  • Snaking.
  • Features nobody is hitting because they are poorly maintained.
  • Features nobody is hitting because of poor flow/line setup.
  • Gaper dad that shouldn’t be in everyone’s way

Would you really enjoy riding that. Enough to pay for it when you’re 17 years old making $7 an hour washing dishes at Pizza Hut?

Unless you’re a no-talent hack, you didn’t go in to resort or terrain management in order to provide sub-par service. So why are you neglecting what are often the busiest slopes on your property, which contribute substantially to your bottom-line?

How to Fix Your Terrain Parks

Nobody is perfect, and getting it right might take a little trial and error as you dial in what works best for your slope and your customers, but at the end of the day that ought to be the baseline expectation.

Crowds and lineups:  Spread things out. Fence off the surface lift so that it doesn’t allow snaking so easily. Figure out a better way to arrange features so landings aren’t stacked on top of the next feature. Use a different or additional trail(s) for setting up park features.

Snakes: Surface lift permits riders to cut on to the rope, or to cut off early and snake people’s lines? Fence it.

Unused features: maybe it’s overmatched for the riders’ skill or it’s in a spot that doen’t create good flow. Move it somewhere else, or swap it out and cycle in some different features. Get creative. If at first you don’t succeed…

Maintenance: No-brainer. Send one or two employees out every hour or so when it’s busy with a rake and a shovel, maybe a bag of salt. Have them groom the lips and fill in the landings whenever possible.

Gaper Dads: Sorry, not much you can do except heckle him and hope he goes away.

The Bottom Line

What’s bringing these people to your area; are they coming just because it’s close and somewhat convenient? Or are they coming because you do an awesome job of taking care of them and providing the best possible experience?

Which type of customer do you think is going to be more profitable for you in the long run?

Think about your bottom line and what it would look like if you didn’t have 200 kids passing through your terrain park on Tuesday nights. It’s probably not a pretty picture.

Now think about what that bottom line might look like if you could get 20, 30 or 50 more people in that park every night because they want to ride your awesome terrain park.

I’m not saying that every resort needs to do what Cannonsburg is doing because it’s clear their commitment to terrain parks is without peer, and maybe putting park over that much of your terrain doesn’t fit your customer profile, but there’s a middle ground somewhere between park-dominated terrain, and the rinky-dink, haphazard assortment of thoughtlessly-placed and poorly-maintained features that some ski areas try to pass off as terrain parks.


2 thoughts on “Better Terrain Parks: A Challenge to Ski Area Management

  1. This is easily one of the best article youve ever written. and I have read almost all of them. This was SO COMPLETELY on point

  2. Pingback: The Winter that Wasn’t

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