FUTURE SHRED: Ruby Hill Rail Yard

Snowboarders get behind Denver’s Mayor Hickenlooper at Ruby Hill’s kickoff event.

All Photos: David Watson – www.watsonphoto.com

Getting new people into snowboarding is often a difficult proposition. Our largest target market, young males, increasingly live in concrete-locked urban areas where the mountains are nothing more than a vision on the television, or in Denver's case, the horizon.

Inspiring these kids takes some serious outside the box thinking and the folks at Denver Parks & Rec are definitely cracking the mold. In addition to bringing inner-city kids to the slopes of Winter Park, which Denver owns in partnership with Intrawest, the city has brought the mountains to the youth by building a free, seasonal park in downtown Denver called the Ruby Hill Rail Yard. While the park was unable to open for its third season this year due to unseasonably warm temperatures, plans are in place to bring it back with a new and improved sticker for next.

We caught up with Timothy Hutchens, supervisor of Denver Parks & Recreation's Outdoor Recreation Department, to learn more.

What was the thought behind building Ruby Hill?

It's really to promote the sport and give kids the knowledge, the skill, and the desire to want to do it because it's down the street from their house. It's unique how it's set up. It's run by the city with partnerships that get it up and running.

Once it opens, it's pretty much run by a group of volunteers that show up everyday and do maintenance. On average we try to do 20-25 volunteers per night. There are incentives for volunteers too. They all get season passes to Winter Park. This year I finagled Burton softshells embroidered with Ruby Hill Rail Yard. We're giving back, people are giving to us, it's a win, win, win.

What has been your biggest success?

This year would have been. (laughs) The first year we opened – no one said we could do it. Even I had doubts. I spent a lot of time out there the first year and people really turned out. The whole bowl would be surrounded by cars parked with their headlights on so they could see at night.

The second year I went out and got Musco lights. They do the X Games and are one of the biggest lighting companies in the country. We put in green light structures. So last year was the best success with a professional lighting system.

Then, we started thinking about what was the biggest negative feedback we received about the mountains, and it's the fact that it's 80 percent white kids that already have access and equipment. I'd be out there talking to the kids and they'd say 'I don't have a snowboard. What am I supposed to do?'  So, ding, ding, ding –I went out and secured Christy Sports as a sponsor to open up a free gear shop for these kids. That was one of the things that we would have had this year that we will continue in the future.

What are you doing to help get new kids up to the mountains?

We give a lot 50 percent off rental coupons. Another really nice success is we created a program called Jibbing for Kids. Denver Parks & Rec and SOS worked together and served a lot of kids in Learn To Ride programs at Vail or Winter Park. Last year we created Jibbing for Kids where we took kids that went through a program at Winter Park and bussed them to Ruby Hill, outfitted them with snowboards, and had volunteer instructors there to teach them to ride rails. Not only did they get an introductory experience of how to snowboard at a resort, but we showed them how they can ride in their local neighborhood.

Now there will be equipment. They could have walked up on certain days and got equipment and a lesson for free. The instructor will just take them out. Learn how to jib some rails. It's promotion. Getting kids to learn a sport where they're going to want to go to the hills.

Hopefully the snow cooperates more next year.

It's the weather. We make all the snow for it. We get the water from a hydrant a couple hundred yards away. We have such fine resources to use, we don't have fixed snow guns or anything like that, but we're getting there. Next year they're redoing the park and we've already had conversations about varying the power and water so the sources are right there at the hill.

That creativity speaks volumes to where the sport can go without huge resources.

Right, that's true. What that park did is offset the use of water to make up for the use of water in the winter. They watered less by planting xeriscape and using more natural grasses that don't need as much water.

Another program we offer is called Urban Riders. It's a high school program where we take freshmen and sophomores from various high schools up to Winter Park five weeks in a row. We do job shadowing and have them complete ten hours of community service. It's all for free and we work with inner-city high schools like East and South. Kids in Denver, mostly from diverse backgrounds. They're all snowboarders.

Basically we recruit kids that have a desire to learn how to snowboard. They fill out an application and submit letters of reference and we select thirteen of them. We provide all the outerwear, lessons. We bought a couple hundred pair of pants, goggles, Burton jackets embroidered with Urban Riders and the Denver skyline. Obermeyer hooks us up for bibs. Then we take them to Winter Park four Sundays in a row. They stay with the same instructor and learn the sport. The fifth week, the first half is job shadowing at Winter Park, the job of their choice, and then that afternoon they do a big freeride. Then we repeat it through the course of the year. This year we did six groups of five trips each. We serve about 2,500 Denver kids at Winter Park through the various programs that we have.

Ruby Hill Demographics

The job shadowing probably gives them more tools to realize that this is actually something they can do and be a part of?

Yeah, and make money at. We also do a tour of Never Summer, a couple tours of Christy Sports. It kind of varies from group to group and what they want to do. Basically it's exposing kids to jobs that you don't have to be super clean-cut and wear a suit and tie everyday, and that you can make money at a sport that you like. I speak from experience. After college I moved to Breckenridge and now I'm doing this. We're trying to promote this industry as not being a totally white-bred, rich sport.

You look at Ruby Hill and these different programs and there are people in Denver really looking out for that long term, how do we hold on to them once we get them in there view.

Have you done follow up with the Urban Riders kids to see if they're still riding?

Yeah, this year some of them came on some trips.  Next winter will be the third winter and we're talking about inviting one or two of the kids back to be mentors/recruiters and participate.


•    Winter Park
•    Burton
•    Musco Lighting
•    Wynkoop
•    Xcel Energy
•    Red Bull
•    Thrifty Sticks
•    KTCL
•    Planet Snow
•    Wahoo's Fish Tacos
•    Blackjack Pizza
•    Bent Metal Snow Skates

For more information including how to volunteer, go HERE.