Presumably the tale of Icarus strapping on wings and flying too close to the sun is meant to be a cautionary tale of the folly of hubris but it might as well be a snapshot of the human need to take flight.
Even if you never leave the ground, skiing and snowboarding – now conveniently called “riding” – provide a feeling not unlike flying, depending as they do on giving oneself over to gravity in a controlled free-fall. That doesn’t mean riders don’t try to strap on their own wings, whether it’s off a terrain park jump, a bump or a cliff.
“It’s great,” says Nick “Pern” Pernici of Red River. “It really is like flying.”
Pernici is one of a growing contingent of twin-tipped skiers who use the versatility of the curved-up tip and tail to ski (and land) forward, backward and all the way around in terrain parks and through more extreme terrain… including over cliffs.
Like their snowboarding brethren, twin tip riders are looking for X-Game thrills.
Bill Burgess of Angel Fire chuckles at the idea that this “New-School” style of skiing is “new” at all. A longtime ski instructor at both Angel Fire Resort and Red River Ski Area, Burgess has been involved in all levels of ski area management over the years.
“When I started skiing, I think it was 1953, we jumped over everything. We’d even gelandesprung (jump over a small bump from a crouching position using both poles to get more air).”
According to the convenient online source Wikipedia, Norwegians began taking flight in the 1930s, followed by the great Stein Erikson sometime in about 1950. Freestyle skiing – or “hot dogging” – first took off around 1971 in Aspen, CO.
Recalling the freestyle boom of the ’70s and ‘80s, Burgess says Angel Fire hosted the FIS Freestyle World Cup in 1983. “That kind of petered out because a lot of places wouldn’t host it because of the liability issues. Now it’s kind of come full-circle with the terrain parks. More than anything else, that’s because of the equipment. The equipment makes it a lot safer.”
“Equipment,” in this case could refer to the gear people wear as well as the machinery used to create the parks people ride. Angel Fire’s Kurt Eppler, a professional park groomer since 2005, agrees that modern groomers and attachments help make terrain parks “fly” but adds, “The true instrument is not the $300,000 machine or even the guy driving it, it’s the kid working the park with the shovel and rake making the feature just right. They’re the ones figuring out what works, building something they can put their name on. I can watch footage and, 9 times out of 10, I can tell you who built the features. Everybody has their own style, that’s the cool part. We get a lot of credit in our machines for doing what those kids on the ground do. A lot of teamwork is necessary to make it happen.”
Eppler groomed at Angel Fire Resort for 12 years and had groomed for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Utah and the 2004 United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) National Competition in Angel Fire before going to work for Snow Park Technologies grooming for ESPN Winter X Games, Japan Slopestyle, Burton US Open, and more. (Son Jon, 24, has followed in dad’s footsteps, grooming for Aspen Buttermilk and in Australia.)
“There are differences of opinion but I feel a manmade feature is definitely safer if constructed properly,” Eppler says. “The key is to have your park builders and park staff educated on how to build properly. The last few years I have noticed a change – the trend is moving away from super parks with big jumps to parks with progressive features for 6 or 7 year-olds getting their first air to older, more experienced riders. It gives everybody a better opportunity to learn.”
It’s a trend local areas are eagerly embracing. Linton Judycki, assistant manager at Red River Ski Area, agrees and asserts that the parks themselves help people take flight just a bit more safely. “People are going to jump, no matter what. With terrain parks, when you’re giving them a spot to jump with proper grooming, it’s actually safer. You put the jumping into a controlled environment.”
Like a lot of ski areas, Red River is working to add to – or improve on – its on-mountain parks in an attempt, as Linton says, “to keep the younger crowd excited.”Red River offers three terrain parks for beginners to advanced riders and recently purchased anew Piston Bully designed specifically for grooming terrain parks.
Angel Fire Resort has enlisted the expertise of Hogan Koesis, Bike Park Manager at the Resort this past summer, to design new features for its parks and create a master plan for long-term growth. “We plan to get those big air bags so people can practice jumps without worrying about landing safely,” Koesis says.
This year, the resort is adding a new starter park next to Liberation Park so riders can “get used to terrain park features. We’ll have box feature and rails near ground level so if you fall the consequences will be minimal.”
“That’s what I’m excited about. There’s a huge market for this. I almost call it the X-Games generation. It you don’t have a terrain park, chances are you’re going to miss a big opportunity for that generation to come to your area.”
Adriana Blake, marketing manager at Taos Ski Valley agrees. “I think there’s a certain kind of rider that wants that. They spend all day in the park (in this case, at Out-To-Launch on Maxie’s run under lift #7). “We figure as long as people are doing it safely… cool!”
Of course, Out-to-Launch – or any ski area terrain park for that matter – also provides a setting to master grabbing big air… and landing safely. At an area like Taos, with its world-class “extreme skiing” terrain, free-fall riding and big air take on new significance: This season, TSV again hosts the Salomon New Mexico Extreme Freeride Championships March 1-3, a 4* Freeride World Tour Qualifying event (FWQ), during which riders are judged on five categories that include jumps and, not surprisingly, crashes.
Pernici, who enjoys a “hidden cliff” as much as a groomed terrain park, says it’s all about fun. “If you’re getting air in the park or hitting a cliff, you’re nervous but after that, you’re focused. You just go for it. You can’t worry about falling, that’s going to happen, but most of the time when you land, looking back up you can relish that you just did it.”
Judycki, who still finds time for the sport he learned at the tender age of 2, agrees. Asked to compare the thrills of in-park skiing to the thrills of cliff jumping or flying down a challenging run like, say, Linton’s Leap, Judycki says, “It’s fun! It’s a different kind of thrill.”
A thrill some people like Burgess never outgrow. “I’m 74 years old and I still like to get air!”
Ellen Miller Goins has lived in Red River since 1963, and with husband Geoff owns Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area in Red River.
This article appeared in Ski Country 2012 on page 17.