PARK CITY There were some who wondered if altering the surface of the snow, to make bumps and jumps and narrow rails only inches wide, would survive the test of the paying customer.
Well, it has.
Terrain parks built within the boundaries of ski areas have become magnets to both skiers and snowboarders looking for something that isn't perfectly flat.
In response, ski areas have gone to great lengths to put more fun into their parks by adding more things to do, otherwise, more features.
"This year, we've added new rails and more jump features . . . things we've found people really like," said Jim Mangan, in charge of Park City Mountain Resort's parks. "In our Super Park, for example, we now have a feature with five jumps in a row. No park in the world has that many jumps, one after another, that are as big.
"We've also added more jump features into our other parks."
The resort began to put more emphasis into its parks three years ago with the addition of Mangan to its staff.
At the same time, said Tom Pettigrew, director of skier services, "We felt we needed to facilitate a program where we could help people experience (terrain parks) in a safe way. It started offering lessons on the snowboard side. Now, we're seeing more skiers taking lessons, but this part is still in its infancy."
That same year, Park City started to move up in the terrain park ratings as voted on by various ski and snowboard publications. Three years ago it moved up to No. 4 and earned rights to be called a Super Park. This year it was rated by one magazine as having the No. 1 terrain complex in the country.Currently, the resort has four parks.
King Crown This is the most challenging of the four, where the pros show up daily to train for big air and on narrow rails. There are 11 features, including rails, jumps and boxes.
Pick and Shovel This is the resort's main park and attracts the most people. Mangan said the reason is it's not too tough, has 18 features, including a good variety of fun boxes, rails and jumps, and has a direct link with the resort's half-pipe."Even some of the pros will come into this park to simply enjoy themselves and to work on new tricks," he said.
Jonesy's Park has a variety of 12 features. This is considered the entry-level park.
The Payday Park, off the popular Payday lift, has 13 features.
So popular are the parks these days, ski schools, as Pettigrew pointed out, are expanding their curriculum to include lessons on feeling comfortable with the features.
The first step, he explained, is to teach safety and etiquette, "which we feel are two of the most important things people can learn."
The next step is to teach riding outside the park, "on natural features . . . learning to slide on something that is slipperier than snow," he continued. "We teach students how to get on and then leave a feature before they enter the park on terrain similar to what they feel inside the park. We'll teach them to land safely after a jump with no directional change, then get them comfortable with, say, a 180 (degree spin)."
He said that typically, within three hours, a student with advanced levels in skiing or snowboarding can be enjoying some of the smaller features inside Jonesy's Park.
And, just what is it that draws people onto this irregular terrain?
"It's the challenge people like," said Mangan. "People also like the feeling of being up in the air, which is why we've gone through and added new jumps.
"Terrain parks also offer something different on the mountain. People can go into one of the parks and be pretty creative in what they do. They can do so many different things on skis and snowboards now. The possibilities are endless. People can also see improvements as they become more and more familiar with the features."
At first it was felt the parks would be attractive to only young skiers and boarders.
Mangan said this year he's seen a broader age class of park visitors.
"We see the kids enter the park and right behind them are their parents, and the kids and their parents are in there jumping and having a great time. We probably see more of the parents in Jonesy's because that's where we have the beginning features. But, all of our parks are being used," he said.
Currently, of the 13 ski areas open in Utah, 11 have terrain parks.And, consensus is, interest in snow parks is only going to grow, which means more parks and more features and bigger air, longer rails and flatter tabletops.