Friday, February 25, 2005

More bang for your buck

Sun Valley opens first ever terrain park on Dollar


Dollar Mt., proving ground for generations of children honing their snow skills, has some new guests: freeriders. Since a small, beginner terrain park was installed in mid-January, you can spot them from a distance, like exotic animals, prowling around Sun Valley's first officially mandated terrain park.

This season, Sun Valley management decided that installing some form of terrain park was imperative.

"We do know that having the lack of terrain park features stops some families from coming here -- that's the truth," said Jack Sibbach, Director of Public Relations for the resort.

And so a year after Baldy got its pipe, Dollar became the place for freeriding "park rats."

For those unfamiliar with the freestyle culture, allow this refresher: freeriders see themselves as a new breed. They speak their own language, a bizarre dialect of spins, grabs, rails and mutes. They are proud and defiant. They are the baggy-panted, loose-jacketed, no-good-punk snowboarders and twin-tip skiers who feel they have an uphill battle to climb in Sun Valley, a resort whose relationship with skiing has always been captured by the word "classic."

But the times, as they say, are a'changing and the freeriding punks of today, with their frightening apparel and strange lingo, are the paying customers of the not-so-distant future.

Seeing this, Sun Valley management discussed and decided on installing the park features on Dollar.

"Everyone was for it," recalls Sibbach of last summer's meetings.

In January, the pieces began to fall in place. "Our main objective was getting the lodge open -- that took a lot of effort," Sibbach says of the Herculean task of opening Dollar Lodge on time. Once the holidays had been successfully navigated, mountain managers and the ski school were able to focus on installing the park.

"I was told to get out there with John Matteson (Dollar Mountain Manager) and figure out where to put a terrain park," said Tom Spertoli, Children's Ski School Director and terrain park guru.

From there, it wasn't long before Spertoli enlisted the help of Zach Settle, 20, snowboard instructor and former assistant pipe manager in Baldy's halfpipe, and numerous other instructors and mountain crew to help with the construction. Since, Settle has taken the reigns as the Assistant Park Manager on Dollar.

"It's unexpected, but really nice," says Settle, who also "thought the park wouldn't be in for five years."

Settle often rides in the park with fellow instructors and friends Milton Allen, 19, Nick Wamsley, 19, and Spertoli, who at 36 has become a fixture in the park, proving that the spines and rails aren't just for kids.

All are positive, yet feel that this is a unique, even revolutionary year for the resort.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Spertoli, adding that the park is "keeping the kids of the parents who come here happy."

The boarders interviewed for this story, representatives of the youth snow culture, noted Sun Valley's precipitous slide in national ski resort rankings in recent years and think it is a sign of the growing demand and continued absence of a substantial terrain park.

"We have the best snowmaking, the best terrain, but if we had a park, we be on top again," thinks Allen.

Recent attendance in the Dollar park has been high.

"On weekends the park is packed," attests Settle. "The skiers are on Baldy and happy that all the knuckle draggers are in the park," he says in a half-serious, half-joking manner.

Sibbach attests that Sun Valley has never barred snowboarding from its slopes and that resort "management is not as conservative as everybody thinks." He reminds that Dollar was actually home to a rarely used halfpipe roughly 10 years ago before it was moved its far more useful Warm Springs location.

Still, some young riders maintain a rebellious stance, an attitude that has become synonymous with the sport. Their culture, they feel, will always be a definitive departure from the established Sun Valley norm.

"It's a classic style resort, not geared towards kids," said Wamsley.

"It's kind of like a country club," Settle concurred.

With plans for a larger park for the Lower Greyhawk area included in the recently unveiled Master Plan, this country club is showing signs of progressive thought.

Though approval from the Forest Service will preclude any construction, Sibbach hopes to see that decision made by the end of the summer.

"I don't see any big roadblocks," he says.

For local skiers and boarders yearning for variety not available on Baldy, a trip to the Dollar park is worthwhile. Clearing tabletops and sliding rails is far more difficult than experienced park rats make it seem.

"The rail really does throw you into the realm of spaz before you get comfortable with it," says Spertoli.

The park features three different rails, three jumps including a spine and a table top, and is open during regular Dollar hours, 9:00 to 4:00.

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