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Anti-Gravity
Snow Sports Get Turned Upside-Down

Snowboarding trickWhat is it about catching air?

“Everybody loves to jump. Kids, adults -- I've had 60-year olds do six-foot drops, and they'll do it all day long. It's not a fad. It's part of a bigger trend that is still growing and evolving,” says Lane McLaughlin, a freeskier and Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) member.

Increasingly, the point of snow sports has nothing to do with snow; it has everything to do with air. Part of the overwhelming trend of action sports, freeskiing and freestyle snowboarding tricks buck convention, surpass the limits of being gravity-bound and are just plain fun.

“Defying gravity, the sensation of being weightless, is like soaring like a bird,” says Butch Peterson, an American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) Snowboard team member and snowboard instructor at Aspen/Snowmass.

How to fly? Huck, grab, spin, jib.

According to the National Ski Areas Association's Kottke end-of-season report for 2003-04, that's precisely what skiers and rider are doing. The study surveyed resorts nationwide and discovered that 86 percent have terrain parks, 52 percent have half-pipes, and almost a quarter have super-pipes. (What's a super-pipe? Think vertigo sidewalls the size of a house, and skiers and riders dropping down them.) As a result, resorts are offering classes and employing new safety measures for using modern terrain features.

“More freestyle and freeski moves are being incorporated into classes, especially with age 19-and-under classes. As terrain features blossom, the pros use them to teach skills and for fun. Almost all kids' classes go into the terrain parks at least once every day, and many focus exclusively on pipes and parks,” says Rich Burkley, managing director of the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen.

But with the rapid proliferation of terrain features coupled with the courage of youth, terrain parks can turn into “trauma parks.” In an effort to reduce potential and actual injuries and make terrain parks safer, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), PSIA, AASI, Burton Snowboards and Ovo helmets united to create and promote Smart Style.

“It stems from skate parks becoming almost extinct because of the potential liabilities,” says Shaun Cattanach, Burton's Learn to Ride and resort project manager. “We don't want to see the same thing happen on the slopes.”

Smart Style offers three safety messages. “Look before you leap” encourages scoping jumps before hitting them and making sure landings are clear and safe. “Easy style it” recommends starting small, gaining proficiency and working your way up to bigger jumps and tricks. “Respect gets respects” reminds skiers and riders to regard others, from waiting in line to moving away from landing zones rapidly.

“Kids will self-organize if they have a starting point,” says Mark Dorsey, assistant executive director of PSIA and AASI. “We're giving them information to do that.”

“The Smart Style program is a clean, clear way to communicate the importance of safety in the terrain park to all park riders,” says Mike Kaplan, senior vice president of mountain operations at Aspen Skiing Company, which hosts the Winter X Games, one of the most visible “extreme” sports events.

Across the country, ski resorts have implemented increased safety precautions and awareness messages such as “We recommend helmets,” signs segregating levels of terrain parks and half- and quarter-pipes into beginner, intermediate and advanced areas.

Mountains are posting responsibility code messages at each lift line, in booklets and on local television broadcasts. Aspen Skiing Company reached out to communicate safety through letters mailed to pass holders and frequent visitors, videos and presentations to grade school children and community gatherings that stressed the importance of responsible skiing and riding. Increasingly, resorts are mandating helmets for kids in classes and are offering discounts on helmets to employees who set examples by wearing them.

At the higher level, Stratton requires skiers and riders attend a safety awareness course to gain access to the pro-level Power Park. Areas are also creating designated intermediate and advanced parks specifically for teaching jumps, tricks and aerials, and incorporating awareness and safe techniques in lessons.

“Terrain parks and super-pipes are part of 21st Century snow sports. We support athletes pushing their limits and expressing themselves, but we want to see them land their misty 540s and rodeo 720s in one piece,” says Dorsey.

Courtesy of ARA Content\

also see in Olympics -> Olympic Snowboarding

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