Launching into its 13th year with its first-ever abbreviated “executive” program, SAM Magazine's Cutter's Camp drew more than 50 terrain park managers and builders from over 30 resorts across New England and the Midwest to Vermont's Mount Snow resort, April 1-3, to discuss the future of terrain parks and how to make them more integral in the future of ski area operations.
The event kicked off on Monday night with the TransWorld Business Fireside Chat in Mount Snow's legendary Snow Barn, setting the stage for the three-day event with a talk by Hession Design Founder and former Mountain Creek GM Joe Hession, Peak Resorts Director of Freestyle Terrain Elia Hamilton, and TWBiz's own Mike Lewis, sharing a look at participation and sales data and discussing how park crews can affect and literally shape snowboarding's future by providing features that engage riders at every age and ability level, creating a fun experience from day one.
This year's program brought together a myriad of experts to discuss the evolving legal landscape of parks, best practices in building, and other topics that have been a staple in Cutter's Camp's decade plus history of shaping shaper's tactics, but one of the biggest focuses came from the discussion around integrating park crews with ski schools to create terrain-based learning features in an effort to increase skiing and snowboarding’s abysmal 15% conversion rate.
This topic was combined with an in-depth look at building features that mirror resort clientele's ability levels and building smaller features to better engage all levels and ages. Hession and Boyne Resorts' Jay Scambio, along with Jay Peak’s Craig Cimmons, led a discussion titled "Small Parks: Focusing on Fun Is The Key To Progression," highlighting the effects of terrain-based learning, progression parks, and integrating shaped terrain throughout the resort.
"What activity can people spend $100, $200, even $400 or more to try and not be able to do it?," asked Hession. “If you pay $200 to jump out of a plane, you'll jump out of a plane. But with traditional snowboard instruction you don't really learn it or have fun the first day. And we're selling fun."
While terrain parks have historically focused on massive, signature hits, with shapers battling to build the biggest, baddest features in the region or world, all of the park builders we talked with were on board with mirroring their terrain to the ability levels of their clientele and they're finding support from GMs.
That support is crucial according to park staff that have already integrated these programs. "The benefits of terrain-based learning are so amazing that it's incredible it took this long to get it going," says Jay Peak Director of Snow Sports and Adventure Programs Craig Cimmons. "However, buy in is crucial for it to be effective. People don't like change."
"We put in a Riglet park this year and have had great results," adds Seven Springs Director of Action Sports Joel Rerko, who also works with SPT. "Getting buy in from terrain park staff is the low hanging fruit for making this happen. AASI and PSIA need to be having these talks to get ski school's buy in."
Burton VP of Global Resorts Jeff Boliba has helped spearhead the initiative and is a driving force behind terrain-based learning and sees buy in from multiple departments as the single biggest hurdle to effective implementation.
"You are essentially adding another terrain park for the resort to take care of and this is a different approach to teaching new riders or skiers," states Boliba. "Just like when terrain parks started getting popular, the resorts that made a plan and had support from all departments were successful. The ones that did not just put up half ass parks and gave terrain parks a bad name. The same will go for terrain based learning so let’s not encourage it unless the resort has support from upper management, a solid park/ grooming crew and an open minded snowsports school that [is] willing to try something new."
And while that cross-departmental buy in is difficult in any organization, especially in legacy groups like ski instructors, some of the resorts represented are starting to go down that road and several campers were sent to Cutter’s Camp based on their GM's interest in learning more about integrating terrain-based learning to increase conversion.
During the week, campers also went on-hill to talk about and test the latest tools, definitions and jump design–soon to be released in the new Terrain Park Notebook. And from discussions on communicating with upper management, cat maintenance, airbag use, park design, event management, daily maintenance, social media, feature construction tips, snowmaking, and more, the level of engagement from the attendees was amazing and the conversations went late into the night's festivities.
“The interaction with other people in the industry who have the same problems, and the opportunity to work our way through them by hearing how others have solved the same issues and bring those solutions back to our resorts is huge,” explains Rerko when asked why he keeps Cutter’s on his calendar.
SAM Magazine Publisher Olivia Rowan echoes those sentiments: “I was blown away with the level of passion and engagement from the East Coast terrain park managers this year. They arrived ready to share their ideas and issues with the other operators and to hear from our panel of experts on how to get more from their freestyle terrain.”
We're looking forward to picking up the conversation at Timberline for Cutter's Camp West May 13-17, which has already sold out and will host 65 campers representing approximately 40 resorts across North America and Canada. For more information visit cutterscamp.com and a big thanks to SAM Magazine for putting on a great event.