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A Beginner’s Guide to Terrain Park Skiing

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I’ll admit, I’ve always been jealous of freestyle skiers. I don’t know much about being cool, but I do know what it looks like. Riding the chair over the terrain park to look down on the skiers and riders gracefully hitting rails and casually sending double-backflips off jumps is, considerably, a hobby of mine. The inherent coolness of freestyle skiers in unavoidably felt while in their presence, even when they aren’t hitting a feature in the park. The closest I’ve come to being “cool” on the hill is wearing my googles under my helmet, and that’s pretty trivial. Not to mention, freestyle skiers always travel in packs, so going into the terrain park without a loiter squad is intimidating.

While I would consider myself a confident skier, I have always been insecure in the terrain park because of how little I know about it. The culture, the tricks, the lingo; it’s all uncharted territory for me! Planting my poles at the top of the terrain park entrance is as close as I’ve come to park skiing, until recently.

In honor of National Safety Month, I decided to face my fears and take a private freestyle lesson at Copper Mountain. For weeks prior to my day-long lesson, I was anticipating all the tangled-up falls and head-to-snow contact I was going to endure that day. To say the least, I was nervous I might hurt myself, or even get so frustrated with myself that I’d give up.

When I showed up to my lesson I was introduced to my instructor, Gabe (aka Dragon) and immediately told him I was nervous about the day. Gabe, who is an ambidextrous snowboarding-freestyle-skier, was fast to shut my anxieties down and get me amped for the day. At the base of the mountain we went over a brief schedule and then hit the lift to take a warm-up run.

After hitting the trees in the Enchanted Forrest for a quick ego-boost, we swooped into the Upper Playground; one of Woodward’s beginner parks. Gabe gave me some important tips on park safety and etiquette prior to dropping into the Playground features. Just like everywhere else on the hill, there are safety precautions and “unwritten” rules skiers and riders must abide by in the park. Rules such as always looking uphill, respecting the queue, and calling your drops may seem obvious, but can lead to injury if not upheld by every skier and rider in the park. These rules are especially important in crowded terrain parks and parks with a several features stacked beside each other.

SMART Acronym

The five main safety precautions taken by skiers and riders in terrain parks is outlined by the SMART acronym:

Start Small: Working your way up to bigger features by developing skills and smooth progressions is the key to learning park.

Make a Plan: Having a plan prior to hit a feature in the park will help you progress and keep yourself and others safe.

Always Look: Before you drop, look up the hill to make sure no one is dropping in above you. Unlike on the rest of the mountain, the downhill skier or rider has the right-of-way in the park. Hence, it’s also the uphill skier’s responsibility to always look before dropping to ensure the safety of those below you.

Respect: Just as you’d give other skiers and riders space on the rest of the mountain, it’s important to give space to others in the terrain park.

Take it Easy: Knowing your limits is important, especially as a beginner. It’s alright to challenge yourself, but don’t push yourself to injury.

Once I was taught the proper park etiquette, Gabe taught me the progressions of jumping onto a straight-box and sliding down sideways (I’m sure there is a more eloquent way to describe this maneuver, but I’m still not fluent in park lingo). The four progression steps to every feature I practiced were approach, takeoff, maneuver and landing. Basically, setting myself up to be able to get on the feature, ride it out, and land. Eventually, I worked my way up to hitting a double-circular tube, which—to me—was an accomplishment for my first time in the park. We spent four hours learning progressions for the beginner features, including the mini-half pipe and step down jumps.

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We spent the last two hours of the lesson in the Woodward Barn; a 19,400 square foot indoor training facility with skate park features, Olympic-grade trampolines, foam pit jumps, indoor ski and snowboard training ramps, and more. Basically, a freestyle skier’s heaven, regardless of what skill level you’re at. I, admittedly, did not pay much attention to Gabe’s instruction while in the barn due to being infatuated with the roller skis. Yes, skis with wheels—like roller blading, but less painful. The number of ramps and jumps to take the roller skis on were endless, but my favorite was the massive ramp into the foam pit.

Overall, my day at Woodward completely changed my mind about freestyle skiing. Not only do I feel confident about going into the park on my own, but I feel more comfortable around the freestyle crowd. While I stand by how cool freestyle skiers are, I felt completely welcomed and encouraged by everyone in the park as a newbie. Other than needing further education on the park jargon, I’d say expert status is in my near future.

For more information on Woodward Copper’s facilities and summer programming, visit their website.