How to plan a snow park? How to make it safe? What are the differences between Europe and America? What are your most favourite parks? Cody Ferris-Heath gives us insight into building snow parks and shwat shapers and cat drivers need to do. About selfies, transitions, office jokers, the love to snowboarding and why this current system is fucked. This is part 2 of the interview, have your read part 1 and part 3 already?
Mogasi: What equipment do you need to build a park?
Cody: A few good dudes, some big sporks (my favorite are the ones from shapetools.ch) plenty of diesel, and a cat driver with some patience and skills. Oh, and don’t forget the metal and a shit-ton of snow; the more, the better!
“n the end, the underpaid shape crew has to waste their precious hours fixing fences, advertising and banners, instead of improving the park.” Cody Ferris-Heath
Mogasi: You were born in America. Compare park here in Europe versus those in America.
Cody: I think there are whole bunch of basic factors that combined make riding park in America much different:
- Cheaper Diesel: this enables the park designers to change the setup more often, and dedicate more hours into the maintenance of the park.
- Riders as Cat Drivers: in Europe, 90% of the time, there is somebody who is not in touch with the freestyle world operating the Snowcat. This equals less understanding of the actual goals of a snowpark, less motivation to improve things, and less knowledge of what factors are critically important to getting the job done right. In most American parks, the cat drivers are riding their park daily.
- Strong Local Scene: at most American mountains, people come from far and wide to ride at ONE ski resort all season long. This makes everyone familiar with one another, creates more local crews, and really makes a “Home Mountain” vibe. In Europe, that vibe is not as prevalent as we have so many choices of where to ride. Generally, the locals and crews are more spread out and don’t ride one park consistently the entire season long.
- Snowpark “areas” instead of a designated run: for most Euro Ski Resorts, the snowpark is last priority. They stick it in the crappiest place on the mountain, the most useless place they can find.
It is pretty silly not to have a snowpark set up in a continuous, top-to-bottom line. It bugs the shit out of me when you are forced to choose rail line OR medium jump line OR large jump line OR OR OR because everything is set up next to each other instead of one after another. A lot of times there is a big park that has over 30-40 features, but you can only have 5-10 hits per run, wtf?
Dedicated park runs separated by ability level are safer and less frustrating for riders and more fun for everybody. The gapers have a comfortable place to progress and the rippers have their own zone to, well, rip. Mammoth is the perfect example, they have 13 different parks scattered around the mountain now!
Mogasi: How much does building a park cost?
Cody: In Europe, a big park can cost around a million euros. That’s a lot of money for something that melts at the end of the season. So its important to invest wisely.
The truth of the matter is, that the core park riders don’t bring a lot of income to the average ski area in comparison to a family of tourists. So, we are lucky to have parks at all. I have the feeling that many mountains only have big jumps for the “wow” factor of the people on the chairlift. Therefore, its only logical, parks are being targeted to the groups that bring money, families of tourists.
The majority of that money goes into the snow-making and the machine operating costs. The park crew, builders and designers normally get only a small portion of the total park budget.
I’m a big proponent of the internal park crew. That’s how most parks in America are operated. I think it’s the best way to produce and maintain the best quality setup for the least money. For example Absolut, Steinplatte, Nordkette, Serfaus, Laax… Most independent programs supply and build their own rails and employ their own people on a long term basis and therefore aren’t motivated buy rail/park accessories sales commissions, but by making a sicker park and having new features to stoke people out.
“I hope for the sake of snowboarding that the resorts will soon realize that money is also taken out of freestyle with every meeting, because those meetings certainly aren’t for free.” Cody Ferris-Heath
With an internal program, a resort doesn’t need to pay big bucks out of its limited budget to an external company. In Park City they spend about 30 000$ in material per season, and that will fix older rails and produce about 40 new high quality obstacles over the summer.
Of course, meetings, quality standards, and proper organization is important and necessary part of any freestlye sport, but at some point, I hope for the sake of snowboarding that the resorts will soon realize that money is also taken out of freestyle with every meeting, because those meetings certainly aren’t for free. And yes, sponsors do bring money to the sport, but every one of those office guys is making 10x more than the shaper who has to shovel out the luxury car branding every time it snows. Just saying.
In most cases, the park companies sold a number of shaping/design/buildup hours to the resort. What often happens, is that senseless money goes into paying non professional shapers to “use up their hours”. We have all seen what the 10 clueless shapers are up to after the build is complete: Mostly scoping the bunnies, taking selfies, playing around on tinder, or working on their goggle tan. Since the “shaper hours” were already sold to the resort before the season began, it’s all good, already calculated into the budget. My personal opinion is that this money could be spent more efficiently to the direct benefit of the snowpark.
In this case, less is more. It’s better for the resort’s finances and the quality of the snowpark to have the right number of capable and motivated workers who earn more money. It’s not good to have a huge crew who gets paid nothing, and in turn, does nothing. Don’t you think it would be better for the riders and for the resorts to have qualified shapers that receive a living wage and take pride in their work?
The result is this: dangerous park obstacles that don’t work, lazy cat driving and a pathetic work ethic among the shape crew.
This is just my one sided opinion of course, I’m sure some people would disagree.
Mogasi: What does a good park look like to you?
Cody: Safe features, an ever-changing setup built for progression and designed for creative riding. Good maintenance and shape with lots of rideable transitions and enough variety that your park day never gets boring. Jumps that give you a feeling of weightlessness, not a feeling of sketchiness. Every inch should be properly prepared, you should never have to land on 2 month old ice!