Play safe, play all season with progression terrain parks at Keystone, Copper and Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

Play safe, play all season with progression terrain parks at Keystone, Copper and Breckenridge

You know that old saying, "Walk before you run?" It holds true in the ski and snowboard universe, only here it's more like, "Slide before you fly."

In Summit County, every ski resort has multiple terrain parks, with features ranging from small boxes and mesa-like tabletops to massive handrails and 22-foot halfpipes made for pros. It's part of the progression mentality: Everyone — even superstars like Breckenridge's Bobby Brown and Eric Willett — started small before they went big, practicing over and over and over to get as good as possible without serious injury.

"We build all our parks with progression in mind, so we make sure that there are no gaps in feature size as you progress through one park to another," said Walker Lutz, terrain park supervisor for Keystone A51 and its attached beginner park, Incubator. "The features get progressively bigger from the top of each park run to the bottom, and the bottom features of each park correspond to the top features in the next park."

What's this mean? Let's go back to the "walk before you run" concept. The top features in the small parks are made for anyone and everyone: rolling bumps with optional wedges to practice jumps, wide boxes with slick surfaces to practice grinds, even the occasional miniature halfpipe to practice transitions. This is where you walk.

By the time you reach the bottom of the beginner park, the features are just slightly larger, with the opportunity for bigger air — and bigger bails. This is where you start to run, but only after you're comfortable on the top features.

Once you've mastered those it's time to progress to the medium park, where the layout is the same: smaller features at the top, larger features at the bottom, all maintained by the park crew to progressively flow from one to the other. This is where you start to run, and from there, fly.

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"We try to put ourselves in the guest's shoes whenever we start a build," said Shane Nay, terrain park supervisor for Woodward Copper, in an interview during the 2015-16 season. "We have really filled the sizing gap in each run you take through our terrain parks. From the time you get off at the top of the Union Creek Quad to the point you get back to the base, there is an incremental increase in feature builds to ease you into really feeling comfortable progressing to larger and more creative features."

Nay's philosophy holds true for man-made terrain at Summit's big three: Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort. Terrain parks at each feature small, medium and large features, all designated by orange Smart Style signs at the entrance.

But, no matter how maintained and manicured, terrain parks can be inherently intimidating and confusing. There's a lot going on, with skiers and snowboarders moving much faster than they do on greens and blues. Before heading to the park, we talked with park managers for tips and hints on how to slide before you fly.

Woodward Copper

Last season, Nay and his crew played around with park layouts for features of all sizes, and it's carried over to this winter. The 13-foot halfpipe (perfect for intermediate riders) is again at the top of Union Creek Quad, where it sits above a collection of boxes and butter pads (boxes as wide as a snowboard). His crew also extended the small and medium jump and rail lines to the bottom of Vein Glory, which fills gaps in Woodward's progression model.

"This allows you to take a top-to-bottom run with feature sizing increasing as you progress downhill," Nay said. Spring is his favorite time of the season to hit the 13-foot pipe. It sits in the sun from open to close, which means the walls become soft and relatively forgiving by 11 a.m. Soft snow isn't conducive for hucking flips in a 22-foot superpipe, but when you're learning, slush is your friend.

Lifts: Union Creek Quad, American Flyer (via High Point)

Keystone

Keystone has long been known as a family-friendly resort and the terrain parks are no different. Found one run over from A51, the Incubator park is teeming with more than a dozen small jumps, boxes and snow features (think mini-mini halfpipe) for kids who want a taste of park riding.

Unlike A51, however, the Incubator park connects after a short while with Schoolmarm, the resort's 3.5-mile meandering green, so the rest of the family can meet up with young park rats. (It's a term of endearment, we promise.)

On the west side of the large Main Street jumps is I-70, a collection of 22 rails or jibs and five jumps ranging from small to medium. Lutz's crew also brought back the popular mini-halfpipe, with one wall around 11 feet and the other around 13 feet. The supervisor calls I-70 a perfect place for just about anyone: newbies, intermediates and even experts who are working on new tricks.

Lifts: A51 lift; Santiago Express; all Dercum Mountain lifts (via Schoolmarm)

Breckenridge

New last season at Breck is a beginner area on the Powerline trail, found directly beneath 5-Chair on the skier's left side of the medium features in Park Lane. It's back this year, and terrain-park manager Greg Davidson says it's built with extra-small features only — think mini rollers and boxes — for newcomers on Peak 8.

Over on Peak 9 at the intersection of Bonanza and Lower American is Highway 9 (formerly known as Bonanza), another beginner park with small features that get progressively larger. There's a collection of rolling jumps and at least six or seven boxes, including fun additions like a rainbow box and kink box.

Lifts: 5-Chair (Peak 8 park); Mercury SuperChair, Beaver Run SuperChair and C-Chair (via Bonanza)

Smart Style 101

More than a decade ago, the National Ski Areas Association introduced general rules for terrain parks across the nation. The rules (technically guidelines) were adopted and followed by all Summit County resorts. They have one purpose: to keep everyone safe on potentially dangerous terrain.

Start small: Work your way up and build your skills.

Make a plan: Every feature, every time.

Always look: Before you drop into any feature.

Respect: The features and other users.

Take it easy: Know your limits and land on your feet.