The Outsider: Where do you put the moguls in summer?
When I worked as a night dispatcher for Vail Mountain, every once in a while I’d field some of the strangest calls imaginable, like the kind you only hear on “Crank Yankers,” or maybe “The Twilight Zone.”
I honestly didn’t mind — you do what it takes to make it through a 12-hour shift, four days a week — and more often than not these callers weren’t legitimate pranksters. Usually, they were very polite, very confused folks happy to talk with a human being after aimlessly wandering our automated phone system. Anyone who’s dealt with Comcast knows the feeling.
Back to dispatch. Most calls were lost causes (“Did anyone find a wedding ring in lower China Bowl?”) while others were beyond bizarre (a staff favorite: “At what elevation do moose become elk?”)
One season, right around this time of year, an elderly woman from somewhere in the Midwest called about the snow conditions. It had been a rough year for the Rocky Mountains — this was one of the two drought-like seasons after the record-breaking snow of 2010-11 — and so I told her Blue Sky Basin and the eastern Back Bowls were already closed, along with a few of the front-side runs, like the rutted-out mogul fields on Pepi’s Face and Head First. Even Look Ma was pretty sketchy by then. It’s been long enough now that I can’t remember her exact response, but I’ll never forget the gist.
“I’ve always wondered where you put the moguls in summer,” she said, her tone the vocal edition of wheels spinning and gears meshing. She paused, chuckled, and then said: “I always assumed they went into a warehouse.”
Earlier this week I was lapping the A51 terrain park at Keystone, where a crew of five cat operators has spent several thousand hours building 10 of the biggest, most shapely moguls on earth. There’s the medium jump line at Park Lane, the large three-pack in Main Street, the mid-park quarterpipe and the lower Peace Park-style flow section, with a looming step-down and two-hit step-up. There’s honestly no way to estimate how many tons of snow now sit in the April sun, perfectly shaped and at their prime, but it’s easily in the millions.
As a friend and I rode up the A51 lift, she had nothing but praise for the park. It’s the best in the country right now, she said, maybe even the world. Why? Because just about everything is perfect: the wedges, the speed, the transitions, even the landings were crisp on that sloppy spring day. Then she wondered aloud if Keystone had plans for the park after closing on April 10, and I suddenly thought back to my curious caller from the Midwest.
What does Keystone do with these massive snow features when the lifts stop spinning? In the past, A51 has stayed open for spring photo shoots with pro teams, but with the advent of paradigm-shifting playgrounds like Peace Park, I doubt if pros want to film at public terrain parks these days. (Superpark, a defunct, invite-only spring session, is the inspiration for the lower flow section this year.)
It might be a ridiculous question — they let everything melt, duh, circle of resort life and all of that good stuff — but what about the thousands of hours that went into moving those millions of tons, or the untold gallons of water that went into snowmaking? There must be some way to extend the life of the labor and product.
Sadly, it sounds like the kickers at Keystone will close for good at the end of the season, same as the park and pipe at Breckenridge on April 24. Copper is a different story — the resort has cornered the youth summer-camp market with Woodward’s on-snow sessions in May and June — but it still feels like a gut punch to realize that two of the world’s best and biggest and most awarded parks close only a month after they reach their prime.
So are there other options? Like, is it feasible to stay open for invite-only, national team training camps in April and early May, just like early November? After all, dozens of pros from dozens of nations are already here. Or are the corporate logistics too cumbersome? One thing’s for sure: Unlike fall, there are no U.S. Forest Service restrictions — just look at the Superparks of the past.
I’m not privy to the inner workings of a Vail Resorts property — very few media outlets are — but chances are I’ll still take a few moments this May to mourn the death of the slushy, abandoned giants at A51. Unless, that is, there actually is a warehouse…
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