The Great Debate (The Importance of having a quality terrain park)
with John Curtis Charlie Hoffman and Marc Moline
In this article we will touch on the seemingly super sensitive topic… terrain park quality and its effect on the resort, riders and other patrons. In this site’s efforts to provide quality and honest reviews of terrain parks statewide we have managed to ruffle a few feathers here and there and with this article we seek to not only prove our point, but to also put some of our logic on the table. Recently when we released a harsh yet dead on review of my home resort’s terrain park the main idea wasn’t to bash the place that I have frequented for the majority of the past 20 years. It was our attempt to facilitate change. Don’t get me wrong if we come to your resort and your park is blown out we are going to write about it. However, not every resort can be held to the same standards. To be completely honest I am jealous. I feel like a deprived child on one of those late-night TV commercials with a fly on one cheek and a tear rolling down the other. My home resort has a high speed lift and a heated patio and a now a better yet still amazingly mediocre terrain park, but in order to get the point across I want to chill on this and move on to something else real quick…..
The “do it for the “love” rebuttal. Ah yes, the most commonly used phrase in combating people who bitch about the terrain park not being good enough; which is usually spoken by people in my age group oddly enough. Truly, I don’t think there are a ton of the older guys and gals (30+) that still ride mostly park. I must admit that “ride for the love” phrase pisses me off to no end. I am a snowboarder. I love snowboarding as much as any human could love an activity. Who are these people that feel like they can give me the long dick because I want a better park? It’s on par with those memes you see floating around the interwebs that show some chick who looks like she is starving and it says “real men love curves”. Bull shit, men love whatever the fuck they are into. I am no less of a snowboarder because instead of being on the never ending search of hitting pillows and pow in Michigan, which up until this year has been a total fuckin fantasy, I instead am a slave to the metal. I have just as much soul if not more than all you 30 something free riders, so give me a break. No one can ever tell another snowboarder what is or isn’t “real snowboarding”. I understand that the soul and emotion in riding deep pow through the trees in complete silence can be amazing, but sadly I live in the Mitten and so do you so shut the fuck up.
Back to the park thing, ok so “the park sucks” etc.. etc… does it really matter? Yes it does and I am going to tell you why. Every athlete or whatever it is we are have a general drive to be the best we can be at the sport we love. Now before you predictably say “I don’t care how good I am” or “I just ride to ride” I want to say I don’t believe you. The consequences of the things that kids at a status less than amateur are doing are high. The whole “just snowboard” or “do it for the love” thing is out the window here and if you tell me I am wrong I’ll call you full of shit. I am also going to write about how it’s the cool thing lately to say things like “I shred for fun” and “do it for the love” and have this real humble hipster persona when in real life you’re a total fuckin’ asshole. Ok so back to this … while although some of this level of trickery(even when it is high consequence) is fun, I don’t believe people do roof gaps and double kinks down stairs because it’s fun. It’s their drive to be good, to be better. To be the best they can be. This is where the terrain parks come in. There is a clear difference in the ability level at each resort that directly corresponds to the aptitude of their terrain park. It’s a fact. I don’t claim to be a phenomenal snowboarder. I don’t think I can do every trick possible at my current park. I can tell you, however, in my pursuit to be as good as I can be I feel disadvantaged at my current resort and that is why I frequent another. I honestly feel like I am cheating on my resort, but lately I am just not happy with it anymore and this younger prettier resort with way better features has caught my eye.
About a week ago I went and checked out a pretty small resort. I was in the area, so I thought I would stop by and review their park. This was a tiny mom and pop place. It had a fun little park comprised of the smallest features I have seen in a long time. I’m talking the kind you hit with some speed and miss the whole thing. The level of riding there was modest. If there was a rail comp at that moment I would have won and that’s not saying a lot. The reason I am bringing all this up is not to blow smoke up my ass, but to bring about the direct correlation of riding ability to terrain park quality to you the reader. The locals there could do every trick possible on these tiny features, but when placed in a situation like say Cannonsburg’s project parks it would be a blood bath. It wasn’t long before they figured out who I was and what I was doing there and chatted me up. All of them expressed an extreme desire to ride a better park and to have better features. They were absolutely aware of their own and their resort park’s short comings. It really bothered them. Some of you may not get that, but snowboarding means a lot to some kids. Kids want to be good at what they love. I get it. Not to make the starving child reference again, but they spoke to me with such passion and urgency I felt like a US reporter deep in the shit in some third world country. I wanted to offer them dry goods. Their heartfelt words brought me to this conclusion…
You can only be as good as your resort / surroundings allow you to be. Now there are exceptions to the rule. There are plenty of killer shreds in and from the Mitten who came from shit resorts, but more times than not a lot of Michigan’s best riders can be localized to specific resorts with quality terrain parks. This statement is only becoming more valid as the seasons change. I can only back this up with a list of what would be considered 20 somethings at this moment, but just wait. Places with baller parks like Cannonsburg and Nubs are turning out shreds that are just kids that will eat your rail game for breakfast. Sad but true. It’s not even a few here and their either. They are turning them out like a god damn super hero mill. Meanwhile, all the kids who are needlessly forgotten in these shitty third world parks who want to learn and grow their skills are left to hit rails salvaged from the abandoned slaughter house up the road. I am personally tired of being that kid playing basketball in a dirt parking lot against a barn. For me, that the circle of life has come around and I have a son coming up. I’ll be damned if he is gonna be eating on just 12 cents a day.
Bottom line is that the quality of terrain parks is so incredibly important for so many reasons. If nothing else they are in fact a plus for the resort in a marketing sense. The years of accommodating the old fuddy duddy’s taking turns on the black diamonds is coming to an end. I am the customer base now along with my kid. I have no belief that entire resorts should be engulfed in terrain park. In reality, even though we as park rats are high in numbers we still pale in comparison to the numbers of the weekend warrior. All I ask for is a greater effort. I ask for more attention. I ask for awareness that is accompanied by the resorts general want to make their customers happy. One of the goals of michiganboarder.com is to help Michigan’s freestyle scene as much as possible. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of resorts that are active and like minded as far as the ideals of “freestyle” way of thinking go. To name a few: Hawk Island, Nubs Nob, and Cannonsburg. These guys are active in the scene and are constantly working to make change, staying updated and generally provide the freestyle shred with the necessary tools to make them as good as possible. I am fortunate to have the ability to discuss this matter with the managers of arguably the two best terrain parks in the state. Terrain park manager John Curtis and trusted side kick Charlie Hoffman of Nubs Nob and Park manager Marc Moline of Cannonsburg. These gentlemen represent the top tier of terrain park authority for Michigan and generally speaking are good peoples.
Interview with John Curtis and Charlie Hoffman of Nubs Nob and Marc Moline of Cannonsburg.
How important is it in your opinion for a resort to have and maintain a quality terrain park?
As a park rider myself, it’s easy to say “very important”, but I think it all comes down to each resort’s specific situation and the market they are in. Good terrain parks don’t come easily or inexpensively. For the areas I’ve been associated with over the past 8 years (Cannonsburg and Echo Mountain) terrain parks have been a major focal point of operation because there was only so much that could be offered with their given terrain. I think resorts need to accentuate their strengths. If you don’t have long runs, steeps, and deep powder, terrain parks are one of the few areas where business can be drastically improved.
Parks are a huge part of resort infrastructure in this day and age, if you don’t have at least one you’re waaaaaay behind the times. Having a quality park has a huge impact on immediate sales and can often make or break a decision on where a family decides to spend their time.
Having a quality terrain park will always be an important part of any resort. Terrain parks draw a completely different crowd than your everyday resort riding. It often sways tourist decision on where to vacation meaning great overall resort for the adults and a rad terrain park for the kids.
Do you feel like having a quality terrain park has a direct reflection on rider ability?
Heck yeah! Building a good park enables youth and adults alike, it gives enthusiasts a chance to hone their skills and work toward bigger/faster/smoother riding.
Definitely, creative riding and progression is heavily influenced on the park you ride. While having a amazing terrain park does help riders learn and progress sometimes you have to just ride what you are given, which is why at Nubs we like to create very versatile features able to be ridden in multiple ways which pushes creative riding.
It’s been obvious to me over the past three years at Cannonsburg that quality parks help support quality riders. Or maybe I’m not giving enough credit to the new towropes for maximizing laps? When I started consulting with Cannonsburg a few years ago, at a time when the area’s terrain parks were lacking, I was surprised how behind the times the level of riding was. Each year the parks have improved and the level of riding has gone up exponentially… to the point of ridiculousness this year it seems.
How much of a hurdle was it to get your terrain park to where it is today?
It’s been a serious grind. We’ve made lots of mistakes and we are continuing to learn as we push forward. People think that guys like Kelly Bennett, Stephen Miller, myself along with many others that are making Cannonsburg’s parks what they are must have some kind of dream job, but that’s not exactly the case. It’s an insane amount of work and it’s not always the most glorious. Most of us are easily working 60+ hours a week this time of season and the projects never seem to end.
Both park riders and the general skiing/riding public have been pretty hard on some of the decisions we’ve made of the years, but I think we’ve been able to take that criticism positively and create a small Midwest area that suits the needs of all segments in the market.
At Nub’s there were no hurdles. Nub’s is all about proof… Everything we do at our area is the best it can be, and more often then not it’s the best in the region, so when we do something we do it right. The year I signed in at Nub’s the parks were just existing, floating in this ‘its good enough’ state. Nub’s had never had anyone who wanted to take their terrain parks to a modern level, management was having a hard time visualizing that it was possible and profitable. So my first season was all about proof, proving to our management that with the right crew, the right vision and the right amount of commitment, we could do super cool things and in turn fill our parks. They backed Charlie Hoffman and I right from the start, but being a business they of course wanted to see the proof in order to justify the advancements.
We get along very well with our management here at Nubs we are all part of a working machine; all the pieces have to work together to create the amazing resort we have.
What are some features you feel like every terrain park must hold?
Simple. Jumps. Down Bars. Boxes.
These are the things that make terrain parks fun. When I was young we would build these things in our back yards and spend whole winters riding them, so it makes sense that this is where resorts should start. They are affordable, easy to build and require low amounts of maintenance.
From there it’s all about giving users things to progress on, add kinks in to the mix, wall rides, variations in bars and boxes.
In today’s snowboard world there are not too many features I would say a park MUST have…because that implies if a park is lacking in those features its not a ‘good’ park. As long as the terrain park is designed and built by a crew who rides the park as often as possible it should be a fun park. If you give me a list of features a resort has… I can’t tell you whether or not they have a good terrain park; all I can tell you is that they have a list of features.
If a resort is looking for its biggest bang for its buck, I’d tell them to plan to get as many beginner/intermediate features in their parks as they can. I’d recommend boxes and low, wide rails/tubes in every configuration possible. The riders that are going to session those types of features verses more advanced features are about 5 to 1. Plus anyone can ride them. Even the best riders enjoy learning new tricks in a lower consequence environment.
As far as some of the “mega features” like Monster City Park go, I think it’s great if a resort wants to go down that road, but they better make sure it’s done right and is as accessible as possible. Even if you hit a park like that spot on, it also has to understand that the amount of traffic it is going to get will be nothing compared to a progression style park.
When building and maintaining a quality park what is necessary staff wise? By that I mean does there need to be one man running the show? What should his credentials be? What about the rest of the crew?
I think we have a pretty unique formula at Cannonsburg that might not be seen at many other resorts, at least not here in the Midwest. Every aspect of our parks is handled in-house, from marketing and design, to fabrication and build-out. There is myself who I guess you could say is the the one calling the shots in the parks as you put it. I also oversee the marketing department which includes, creative, media, sponsorships and events with the help of Alycia Choroszucha and Cameron Raterink .
In addition to overseeing all aspects of maintenance Kelly Bennett, Stephen Miller and much of their support staff are the muscle behind the parks. They’re the ones taking that direction and turning it into a reality through fabrication and snow cat operation. Our snowmaking and grooming staff are integral in getting snow where it needs to be and keeping things looking good. With the amount of traffic our parks receive, we have 10-12 park crew members on staff. We really try to focus on keeping lines of communication open and work together as a team.
Most importantly, behind it all we have Cannonsburg’s owner Doug Gale, who actually gets it and is adamant on our parks being the best they can be.
Oh shit!! That is the question of the century!!
It seems like there might be some ‘big’ answer to this, at least that is what SPT and Planet would have you thinking.
Truth is, if you have a crew of avid park riders on your staff and a decent machine operator you can do pretty much anything you want. It’s all about passion and motivation, without passion/motivation and riding experience you’ve got nothing. Dream it , Build it, Ride it!
You need passionate riders who are just as passionate and motivated about building rad features they want to ride. Having the ride group of individuals working together as a team to design and build always translates over to snow great. The person in charge of running the show basically works out everyone’s schedule, we’re all friends and work together to make it work.
Do you feel it is possible to build a quality park if you are not involved physically with snow sports?
No…. The reasons behind this are pretty self explanatory. Like I want some guy who has never hit a jump building me a 45fter and saying “go hit that “. That’s why ^ your previous question got the answer it did. Staff quality riders with good work ethics and your park will be fun at the worst.
No, if you don’t ride it you may be able to calculate all the angles and trajectories but you will never know how it feels. It should be criminal to build a terrain park if you don’t ride. You have to respect what you are building; this comes heavily from riding what your build. Knowing every aspect of a feature is what it takes to create great park features. We test our features; park crew rides our jump line before it ever gets opened to make sure you can safely hit all 5 jumps in succession. You just can’t do that if you don’t ride.
Probably not. There are some extremely talented heavy machinery operators out there that can do wonders with a snow cat, but if you can’t back up and take a look at what you are building from a rider’s perspective, it probably isn’t going to ride right. Trying to convey that second hand can be very difficult as well. I think having designers and operators that are riding the parks they are building is what sets some of the best parks in the region apart from others.
Why do you suppose some resorts with the monetary ability decide to neglect their terrain park.
Two things: The first is a lack of understanding of terrain parks and the second is the bottom line financially.
Sitting in on some terrain park focused classes at recent MSIA conferences, it’s easy to see how disconnected some area’s management is from what’s going on in the freestyle world. I imagine it being very overwhelming for them trying to figure out where to even start and that has to hold some areas back from exploring it.
Then there is the financial side. As I mentioned before, terrain parks don’t come easily on inexpensively. I won’t give names, but it’s obvious that there are a few resorts in the state basically have a monopoly on the ski & ride business in their particular area, so consumers really don’t have much of a choice where to ride. From the average business ownership’s perspective, if you’re not loosing major business as a result of the shortcomings in your terrain parks, then why even bother?
This is all speculation, but I assume in most cases that it’s for the same reasons that Nub’s had a bit of a hard time moving in to the modern terrain park scene until Charlie and I came in. It takes a HUGE amount of commitment and knowledge to go from being a ‘blahhh’ park to a ‘whoa’ park. G.M’s don’t have time for that shit, neither do area managers, they need someone or some group to come in and say “HEY GUYS, WE WILL DO THIS FOR YOU”.
I honestly can’t think of one resort in MI that has turned down an offer from local riders to help improve their terrain parks…. Sometimes the guys in charge don’t know enough about this subject to even have an idea on where to start.
Has there been an obvious financial gain from the notoriety of your terrain park?
Nope! Lol, we spend WAY more money than our parks are actually bringing in, at least if you try and measure its profitability off of what the parks are doing.
In our opinion, you don’t look inside the park to try and figure out how profitable your freestyle program is, you look at how many people were in the car with each of the kids in the park.
It’s like this, kids run the show, flat out. If the Davis’s, a family of five are going on a weekend trip and little Billy Davis loves to ride park, you best bet your money on papa Davis heading wherever Billy says. So if the Davis’s come to Nub’s so Billy can ride our parks, we’re actually pulling 5 unique ticket sales, not just the one little Billy would account for.
This is the game for us, and it always will be. Nub’s is not in East Lansing, Grand Rapids or even Central Michigan. Our distance from the masses makes our game all about providing the best we can in everything we do. So when we look at how our parks are doing we are looking at a larger picture, and that in turn plays to the other strengths of our business, quality grooming and snowmaking, glade skiing, race training, lodge and food. It all works together as one unit, by design.
It’s really had to quantify that over the past few years, especially with difficult seasons weather wise the past couple, but I do feel some financial gain is starting to be seen. Part of my job is offsetting the cost of our terrain parks with sponsorship dollars, so that helps us to be able to do what we do, but it’s still just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the overall investment that has been made.
I talk to kids all the time in our parks that are from around the state and even the Midwest that are at Cannonsburg simply because of the reputation of our parks and that momentum seems to be growing. Any new business is good business and ideally we are just creating a more dynamic environment at the area that everyone wants to be a part of.
Have you encountered any problems with having the terrain park of your stature?
I’m knocking on wood right now, but we’ve been pretty fortunate over the past couple of years on the safety side of things. It’s obvious that kids are going to take risks no matter what and it’s probably better that we provide them with a controlled environment to do it in that having them trying to create their own freestyle terrain which used to be the case more often than not.
From the customer service side of things, there has been some level of pushback to our terrain park development from more recreational skiers and riders over the years, but from most of the feedback I’ve heard recently, that sentiment is starting to change. By adding four new rope tows and creating freestyle terrain in formerly unutilized or underutilized areas we’ve actually freed up hill space, at least traffic wise, and drastically reduced lift lines.
Problems? Hmmmm… Not really.
The only thing I can think of, is that people begin to think that “parks” are all you offer, so you have to be super careful about how you’re marketing your brand. The last thing I want anyone to think is that the only reason to come to Nub’s is because we have good parks, there is a whole lot more than that going on.
What is the benefit to having multiple freestyle events each year?
Well its obviously so kids can chuck triples and chase the Olympic dream right??
Hahaha, just kidding, just kidding, go ahead and pull the turds out of your L1’s J
I’m not sure I can tell you the benefit, but I can tell you why we do it… It’s simply because we didn’t have stuff like this when we were young. Charlie and I talk about it all the time. Back in the day there might have been 2-3 events that were worth going to all season, and that goes for the whole state of MI. We do it because our scene needs it. Dudes are paying up to $60 a day to ride our parks and I guess we look at quality events as a way to give back to our community and help stoke the fire, it’s a way of showing we care.
The main reason is to give even more of a reason to come ride the park, have a good time and hang out with your friends. Free product is just a bonus.
We went really heavy on events in the first couple years of our renovations to the area with the intent of trying to draw new riders in to experience the improvements, particularly with the terrain parks. When you factor in the cost of building the event parks we put together, making money on them is nearly impossible though. Again, it’s more about creating an experience and atmosphere that people will talk about.
This year we have consolidate our events into one pre and one post season event “Shredtoberfest and “Jibs & Salsa”, an early and late season event, Rome SDS “Parknado” and Neff’s “Beach Bash”, and then smack dab in the middle of our season is the Meijer State Games of Michigan “Winter Games” featuring four different freestyle events.
How important is daily maintenance?
Daily maintenance is essential. The hard part is that under the extreme evening and weekend traffic we often see at Cannonsburg, depending on the snow conditions it can be very difficult to stay on top of. Even with three park crew members on at a time, no matter how much snow they thrown into a rut or bomb hole, it often comes out of it just as fast.
Daily Maintenance is what it’s all about! With out a quality hand crew you’re up shits creek. Ever been to a park and been excited about everything you see as you’re taking your first lift ride up, only to be MEGA DISSAPOINTED by giant ruts in the lips and landings? Daily maintenance is a must, it ads that extra value to some ones experience at your area and helps justify the insane cost of shredding.
Maintaining terrain parks on a daily basis is a must. Without a park crew available to rake every morning the park would just fall apart. Up in Northern Michigan, especially this year, we get hammered with snow, which calls for massive amounts of daily handwork on the park to keep it looking and riding well.
Can you specifically comment on the positive effects your park has had on the culture, youth Etc…
Snowboarding has been burdened by stereotypes of all shapes and sizes over the last 20 years. One big stereotype is that we are unappreciative and incapable of living our lifestyle while furthering ourselves outside of the snowboard world. So when kids and parents alike, comment on the amazing job we’ve done at Nub’s and how much their families enjoy our offerings, we just tell them that ‘your scene is what you make it’. We try to spread that vibe like the plague! Everything from slapping High 5’s, to helping kids with tricks, putting out edits etc… And come to find out, it’s had a good impact.
So the example I will use to answer your question is the story of Noah Talentino; Noah lives in the Sault MI. He and his crew have limited options on where they can shred. It’s either a trip down to us at Nub’s or “the-b-word”, or even further south to Cannonsburg or Brighton. Either way it’s a drive… Noah got a bug up his butt sometime last season and started a campaign to convince his township/city/whatever, to give him a small parcel of land at the local tubing hill, a small amount of cash for building features. On top of this he worked with his local high schools construction/welding programs to have the features built by students at NO cost. Now he and his crew have a place to shred that is near their homes.
^that is what it’s about, enabling and inspiring people of all ages to be active both on the hill and in their communities.
It’s hard to assess the effect Cannonsburg’s parks have had specifically on the culture because there are a lot of areas, companies and people out there making significant strides to improve the scene right now. I do feel as though Cannonsburg is helping to lead the way on the park front though. We’ve prided ourselves on creating the best parks possible while establishing a positive and welcoming environment for all riders and it seems to be winning formula for us. Hopefully Cannonsburg’s efforts will continue to create a ripple effect of park improvement for resorts statewide.
Freestyle snowboarding was once considered a fad. Where do you see the direction of terrain parks going?
Freestyle?? I’m back in the late 90’s early 2000’s let me go choose whether or not I’m riding my pipe board or my park board today cause the X-Games are blowing up and Shaun White is still the prodigy child everyone loves. Remember that? This is the way snowboarding works, it becomes really popular and everyone’s excited cause new fads come into play like doubles, triples, and the Olympics accepting slopestyle for the first time. However it will fade and the direction terrain parks need to go in is to keep pushing through the lows and provide the best park possible for those of us who will stick around no matter what happens. The quality of a resort as a whole should never dip due to the quantity of riders.
Snowboarding still is a fad, don’t forget that, not for everyone obviously, but definitely for the vast majority of people who strap in a few times year to year. You’ll see it this next season, kids dressed like Danny Davis looking to rip a pipe in the wake of the Sochi Olympics, but by the next year they are on to skiing, then football… Just following the trend. Which is exactly how it should be. Not everyone has it in them, or wants to be a ‘core’ rider, and that’s how it should be in my opinion. Give everyone the opportunity and let them weed themselves out. It’s how our scene survives.
MI in specific has a daunting task laid out in front of our terrain parks, one that I’m not sure every resort is up to taking on. There are a few that have upped the game, and the others are now making investments to capitalize on the hype and interest generated by those few resorts. But all of this hype will eventually fade and the demand will lull, it’s just the nature of the beast. There will still be ‘core’ riders out there, but will all of these late comers (resorts) be willing to persevere through that inevitable low? Until park riding swings back in to demand 5 years down the line?
My advice to any resort looking to give the kids what they want, and never be outdated, is to fill your parks with Jumps, Bars and Boxes. It may sound minimalistic, but so were our first back yard set-ups, and you never forget those J
This sounds more like an essay question to me… It’s like anything I guess. I’m sure participation in snowboarding as a whole will continue to go up and down as it already has, but I have to believe that with terrain parks becoming more accessible the freestyle emphasis of snowboarding will continue to grow and the core culture will strengthen.
It’s also going to be really interesting to see how the balance between small independently owned areas and areas owned by mega resort corporations unfolds in the Midwest. There is still a lot to figure out, but in the end I think we will have much better terrain parks across the board.
I just hope that resorts either start or continue to listen to the input of their riders and that the riders remain willing to contribute to their area and make it a better place for themselves and everyone else. On a Midwest scale it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship. Not many of us are feeding off of destination travel, so it doesn’t really work without everyone coming together for the common good.