“Mom, show me how to do the rails!”
When I grew up, the only jumps on the mountain were the ones naturally developed on the uphill side of lift towers, in between trees, or ones we built ourselves. I have memories of my favorite jump being “marked off” with bamboo poles by ski patrol and when people started wearing something called a “ski helmet”.
In short, a lot has changed over the last 15 years in the world of skiing and boarding.
Now the vast majority of resorts have one or multiple terrain parks geared to a variety of skill levels. My kids love it, even the cautious and timid one! Some resorts, like Snowbasin Resort in Utah, have embraced terrain based learning, using terrain parks specifically to help new skiers and boarders learn to master the basics.
Yet, sometimes I feel like a duck out of water. The ski resorts aren’t the same ones I grew up on!
Even though I am not likely to master the rail yard and most certainly won’t learn to do a flip, I can and should still learn how to negotiate the terrain parks along side my kids. Everyone should know the ins and outs of safety and politely enjoying some air time on hill.
Here are five tips for negotiating terrain parks with your kids:
1. Start at the beginner terrain park.
Most mountains have multiple terrain parks, each with different features geared to different ability levels. It is so tempting to pull off the groomer you are on and launch your family into the first terrain park you see. I’ve made this mistake. But try to be a little more purposeful.
Most terrain parks have a sign at the entry detailing the features below. Identify if it is beginner or expert park, how big the jumps are, and how big the other people in the park are going. This is both for your safety and the safety of others around you—a 200 lbs skier landing on them could cause serious damage to both parties.
2. Learn the safe stopping zones.
For instance, everyone should stop at the top of the terrain park and wait in line for their turn, not just blow through unaware of the other riders waiting. As you continue through the park, you should not stop before, on, or immediately after a feature. The later one is especially important as riders above you cannot see you or your kids and may land on you.
In general, if I am not actually jumping or riding a rail, I stay far away so as not to ruin the line for someone else. If you need to stop for whatever reason, pull off to the side, at least 10 feet away.
3. Learn the hand signals for communicating with other riders above you.
There are standard hand signals to communicate quickly whether the jump is clear or someone fell but is hidden from sight:
Arms crossed over your head if a skier is down. Arms in a circle if it is safe to proceed.
If your kids are really young, stay with them in the terrain park so you can signal to other riders if they fall in a blind spot. I had to do this once or an adult boarder would have landed on my 5-year-old son had I not thrown up the “crossed-arms” signal. I always assume the riders above cannot see a person below a feature and communicate appropriately.
4. Make sure to wait.
This sounds a little elementary, doesn’t it? But I cannot tell you how many times I am standing with my kids, waiting in line and a group blows in the entrance and just keeps going. It is frustrating at best and dangerous at worst, especially when I’ve just lectured my kids on waiting their turn.
I’ve also noticed that many kids do not allow enough space between themselves and the rider in front of them. I encourage my kids to wait until the person before them has cleared (landed safely) the first jump. It is tempting to jump on someone’s heels, but often leads to a major pile-up on the landing if someone crashes.
5. Don’t just ski the terrain parks, cut under jumps or stop in the middle of the run.
In general, if you don’t plan on hitting any of the jumps, don’t enter the terrain park.
As a parent, this one is tricky. Often I want to stick with my kids and like I mentioned above, help communicate with other riders if they fall. So what should I do? If skiing outside the roped area but still within sight of my young kids is not an option, I will ski along with my kid, but off to the side, far from any features. Generally, my goal is to stay out of the way, but also to make sure my kid is safe, help if they fall, and ensure we exit the park cleanly.
Have I missed any? What tips do you have for introducing your kids to terrain parks?
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