Friday, December 18, 2009

Mountain do

Sun Valley Co. set to debut new terrain park on Dollar Mountain


By JODY ZARKOS
Express Staff Writer

Skier Chris Shepard gets some big air off a snow jump on Dollar Mountain. Photo by David N. Seelig

While their youthful park-and-pipe patrons might consider them somewhat over the hill, 30-somethings Corley Howard and Brian Callahan are the dudes designated with making the fun happen on the hill for a population segment that expresses itself through shredding, jibbing, bonking, tweaking and hucking.

The pair is familiar with the lexicon, at least.

Howard, a project manager for Snow Park Technologies, and Callahan, the new terrain park manager for Sun Valley Resort, have years of experience in designing, building and running terrain parks. The pair has teamed up to tackle Sun Valley's latest venture—a terrain park on Dollar Mountain featuring a huge jump line, 13 rails, boxes and jibs. The park opens Saturday, Dec. 19.

Throw in a new tubing hill and you have what Callahan calls the "Dollar Family Fun Zone."

Long known as the grand dame of American ski resorts, Sun Valley was teetering on dowager status, relative to the burgeoning and ever-changing snow-sports industry. Now in its 74th winter season, Sun Valley has seemed somewhat slower than younger resorts to adopt improvements unrelated to alpine skiing, but now the elegant old lady seems ready to raise her hem and let down her hair.

Jack Sibbach, the resort's director of sales and marketing, said the company has been mulling the feasibility of a freestyle park for at least a decade, but credits new General Manager Tim Silva for turning possibility into a plan.

"The mountain staff and others have thrown the idea around for 10 years, but Tim is the person who provided the commitment," Sibbach said.

Enter California-based Snow Park Technologies, which has enjoyed a solid working relationship with Sun Valley Co. for years, designing courses for events including Sol Fest, the Honda Ski Tour and 48 Straight. Since 1998, the SPT team, many of whom are working on the Sun Valley project, has provided services for ESPN's X-Games in Colorado, and has built and maintained world-class facilities at several U.S. resorts, including Snowmass, Colo., Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif., and Waterville Valley, Vt.

SPT has a three-year contract with Sun Valley to help design, build, maintain and market the new parks and superpipe, as well as aid in any contests or events Sun Valley decides to host.

"There is an urgency to have this," Howard said. "On some level, they are playing catch-up, but when Sun Valley Co. wants to do something, they do it right. And on the 19th, they are going to open with a world-class project."

Long accustomed to Sun Valley's first-rate way of building and running its lifts, lodges and amenities, some locals have expressed concern at new undertakings that might shake up the pleasantly staid and serene surroundings.

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Callahan asked, "What is Sun Valley's image? Class and quality. But you need to keep the kids happy."

Sibbach acknowledged there has been some resistance to change among the old guard, but welcomes the discussion it has opened up between all types of winter enthusiasts.

"It's all part of the education process for old guys like me," he said. "There are a lot of posts on blog.sunvalley.com and it is great to see the interest and great that they are talking. We welcome those comments."

Comments on the blog range from "stoked" to "mourning the loss of Old Bowl" but one can sense the anticipation among both groups.

There was talk about putting the park on Bald Mountain, but the hill was deemed too steep, although Lower Warm Springs on Baldy is the current location of the superpipe.

"It is certainly something we talked about," Howard said. "But we need to make things as safe as possible. Safety is the No. 1 thing because you are building risk. You have to take everything into account to reduce that risk."

Trying not to turn calculated risk into an oxymoron, Howard said the larger park is located in Old Bowl and the smaller park on Half Dollar.

"On the steeper runs, you usually make the jumps taller to control speed. We have small, medium and large features and I think there is good flow between them," he said.

"The pipes, jumps and rails are all of the highest quality. The whole family can ride the small park, and the bank turns and tabletops are fun. What is great is you can see everything from the bottom and the lodge."

The park is not only a boon for the general public, but for athletes on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation freestyle and snowboard teams as well.

"There is so much excitement with all the new stuff coming in and it can only help us," said Andy Gilbert, director of the SVSEF snowboard program.

Freestyle Director Andy Ware said, "It really shows a lot of dedication from Sun Valley Co. getting the park and pipes open as early as possible, and the possibilities for our athletes is just going to go up exponentially."

"I think it is really a turning point for the youth in the valley," Callahan said.

And who knows? Perhaps youths are not going to be the only group served by the terrain park. Perhaps some old dogs might find a way to huck the generation gap—and even like it.




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