The young snowboarder paused and looked down the slope before taking off. Then, he shuffled his board to the opening gate and took aim at two brush-like objects poking out from the snow about 50 yards below. The red makers indicate the lip of the jump where skiers and snowboarders launch into the air.
The rider hit the lip and flew into the air, about 5 feet above the slope below. The landing was a bit rough — he wobbled, then landed on his backside, snow spraying into the air. No harm was done, though, as he popped back up and continued down the hill.
The snowboarder took on one of a range of obstacles — called features — at the Medicine Bow Terrain Park at the Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area. The park made its debut a number of years ago but really took off about five years ago. In addition to the advance park area, there is also a beginner park on easier terrain near the bottom of the Virginian run.
Jake James, terrain park manager at the ski area, is in his first year as manager but has been a part of the terrain park crew for five years. James has been snowboarding since he was about 12 years old and even used to build backyard jumps, rails and boxes with the help of his dad.
“I was attracted to hitting features early on,” he said. “It’s the challenge, the sense of adventure, the thrill and excitement. It also is just a fun change from every day skiing and snowboarding.”
With that personal experience, as well as being a part of the park crew for five years, he has a good idea how the various features ride and how to set them up. His passion for taking to the air and learning to maneuver the various features is evident as he describes how the park is built.
James said it all starts with a pile of snow — a very big pile of snow. This year, the various features were built and installed the week before Christmas, with the park opening Christmas Eve Day.
“We built it initially mostly with man-made snow,” James said.
“That snow tends to be wetter and denser than natural snow and is really excellent for building a terrain park. With the new snowmaking guns last year, it has really helped to have great snow to build the park. It’s amazing to me to see the finished park, knowing that it started out before the season with just dirt and grass. We put a lot of pride into it.”
The most unique feature of the park resembles the U.S. Forest Service sign that marks the entrance to the Medicine Bow National Forest. The feature was created two years ago by Erik Clark who was terrain park manager at that time, and Nick Roma, who is now part of White Industries, Ltd. and who was also involved with building snow features in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
The feature is a 70 percent scale model of the Forest Service sign. A ramp arches over the top of the sign, forming what is called a “rainbow box,” which is 1 foot wide and 24 feet long. The feature is included in a special Terrain Park Contest sponsored by Ski Area Management, where visitors to the magazine website have the opportunity to vote on their favorite feature. James notes that anyone can vote just by going to the contest page at www.saminfo.com.
Looking across the Medicine Bow Terrain Park, there are about six other structures poking out of the snow in addition to three jumps where the skiers and riders pop into the air and either just fly or try different stunts including spins, flips and other acrobatic moves.
The structures include what are called boxes and rails as well as one long painted propane tank. James explains rail features usually look something like a stairway handrail. Boxes are wider than rails, typically about a foot-and-a-half wide.
As the ski season enters the home stretch, it’s a great time to give the terrain parks at the Snowy Range Ski Area a go if taking to the air — on purpose — is your thing. With the ski area scheduled closing April 9, time is running out.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.