Friday, November 11, 2011

Repurpose, Recycle, Rad-Environmentally Conscious Terrain Parks

On a larger scale, ski resorts can invest in projects that help them reach environmental initiatives, but what about the terrain parks that reside within the boundaries of resorts? How are terrain park managers getting creative, while trying to balance fun and progression, and being environmentally friendly? I asked my friend Bryant Thomas, Terrain Park Manager from Ober Gatlinburg Terrain Park to help me out by answering a few questions.

Ober Gatlinburg is located within shouting distance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the U.S. This area is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world and is in the un-glaciated Appalachians, an ancient mountain range characterized by less-severe slopes and different ecosystem type of the western U.S.

Most terrain parks are part of a larger ski resort where you have to adhere to the resort's environment initiatives. How much feedback does the staff at the terrain park provide the resort on sustainability initiatives and what do you do to contribute?

Ober in general always strives to be as “green” as possible. Our local Chamber of Commerce recognized the resort as a Gold Level member of the Gatlinburg Goes Green campaign, meaning that to reach that level we had to show everything that we do to reduce our environmental impact. This includes encouraging visitors and staff to use our electrically driven Aerial Tram up to the resort, placement of recycling bins, and decreasing energy usage by renovating the ice rink1. For the terrain park itself, I try to keep with the Resort's overall goal. I am constantly looking at items lying around and in junk piles, thinking of ways to reuse and repurpose them. Some things work like corrugated pipes, tires, oil drums, while some things I wish would work never end up coming to fruition. 

How do you work "green" efforts into your park construction and how do you think terrain parks in general could do this or do it better? For example, Heavenly's Ante Up park has features that are actually made by recycling old boxes and rails into new creations and re-purposed material like old water piping, steel from fan blades, and trees that feel onto runs.
Aside from finding and repurposing items into features, we don't build any of our rails. Hopefully in the future we will, but for now we purchase our rails from the highly skilled KAB Rails. I know the guys at App Terrain Park (part of Appalachian Ski Mountain2) recycle a ton of their features into new ones, they buy very little steel for as many jibs and rails as they have. Those guys are super smart and creative, constantly pushing the envelope of what a terrain park can be in the Southeast. Ric and Drew at App are so awesome, I get a lot of inspiration from those guys for sure!

Photo: App Terrain Builders Blog

Terrain parks are about fun, progression, and variety. Can you talk in general about the use of natural terrain features such as trees and wooden structures, the use of dirt as a foundation for building features in the summer before it snows, and the importance of the quality and amount of snow to shape?
I love resorts that are able to incorporate natural terrain into the park. You see this in two ways, one of which is adding 'semi natural' features i.e. The Stash, and you also see resorts using their natural topography and geographical features. For a good example of the latter, check out the Capita Team Shootout video. Now they most likely don't have rails set up off of cliffs for public use, but you can see the possibilities.

Who do you think builds the most innovative parks?
Innovative can be pretty subjective. On one hand you have people like Snow Park Technologies that are contracted by resorts like Northstar, Aspen, etc. They build top of the line, amazing parks. They do the X Games courses, Simon Dumont's cubed pipe, and so much crazy stuff. But, a lot of that is out of reach to the majority of the populous. I think resorts that can be creative, but at the same time accessible, are the most innovative. Resorts like Big Bear, which is also a SPT resort, have always been super innovative with terrain park design. Appalachian Ski Mountain is the Bear of the South! Brighton also does some really cool and interesting set ups. Those are the resorts I watch and look to for forward thinking terrain parks. Oh, and you can't forget HCSC and Windells, they do some super fun looking set ups.
What inspires you to ride and run the terrain park?

Snowboarding has been a passion of mine for a long time. I grew up skateboarding and had skied and snowboarded a bit when I was younger, but once I got in high school I really got into it. There's just something about the way snowboarding makes everything else fade away that I've always loved. Having fun with friends, just cruising or riding pow or the park, its all so much fun. I think growing up snowboarding in the Southeast makes skiers and snowboarders appreciate the time they do get to ride so much more. We basically have a 3 month season in the South, so kids are super motivated to make the most of what they get. I grew up in Pigeon Forge and rode Ober Gatlinburg for years. I know the mountain like the back of my hand, even more so now.

Ober had decided to put in a park for the 09/10 season. I had a long term goal of what I wanted for the park, and its part of the puzzle that is Ober. I think we have continued to push ourselves and step it up each year. I have a great crew that works from me, as well as some amazing bosses and coworkers. My park crew guys deserve a lot of credit, they work hard and we all push each other to give our riders and guest a better experience. 

Its funny though, with as much as I'm in the park, I really have more fun hitting the banks and bumps, all the natural stuff that I grew up hitting!

Photo: Bryant Thomas