To stay safe in a terrain park, you have to ride SMART. At least that is what the National Ski Areas Association promotes with their SMART Style initiative.
A five-letter acronym, SMART stands for
• Start small — Work your way up. Build your skills.
• Make a plan — Every feature. Every time.
• Always look — Before you drop.
• Respect — The features and other users.
• Take it easy — Know your limits. Land on your feet.
Signs with this guidance are posted at terrain parks across North America and are used to help educate everyone from beginners to experts.
Yet many of the rules that help everyone stay happy and healthy in the park are unspoken and informal. We know good behavior when we see it, and we know bad behavior when someone gets hurt.
To get a better understanding of good terrain park etiquette, both formal and informal, I reached out to experts at Big White (BC), Copper Mountain (CO), Northstar California, Snowmass (CO) and Stratton (VT).
Know The Code
While most of us know the skier and snowboarder responsibility code, it’s important to remember that these rules apply to the entire mountain, including terrain parks, albeit with some unique nuances.
Both Jason Hartmann, the Snowmass Snowboard Program Coordinator and Flynn Seddon, the Terrain Park Director for TELUS Park at Big White, emphasize that knowing the code is the first step to smart, safe terrain park etiquette.
1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
*Park Style: Ride the park appropriate to your skills.
While you may be an expert skier, if you’re new to the park, you’re a beginner again. Start small and work your way up.
Likewise, don’t be fooled by park size or location. Terrain parks are often built on or adjacent to green or blue runs. This doesn’t make them green or blue terrain. Pay attention to the Small, Medium and Large designations, and as Flynn Seddon cautions, “don’t be pressured into riding outside of your limits.”
2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
*Park Style: Respect the queue and call your drops.
Just as you wouldn’t ski too close to someone on a wide-open run, it’s important to give everyone space in the terrain park.
This starts with the queue. Don’t cut the line and don’t crowd anyone. If you’re unclear who is next, ask. When it’s your turn to go, make sure the person in front of you is clear, then call your drop with a loud voice and a raised hand.
According to Noah Schwander, the Terrain Park and Progression Manager at Woodward Copper, calling your drop sets the tone for your day.
“Drop is a word you need to know and use. It helps you fit in with everyone else riding in the park.”
Once you’ve dropped, be aware of the people in front of you and don’t follow too closely.
3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
*Park Style: Never stop under a jump. Clear all landings quickly.
Whether you’re cruising through the park on a pre-ride to check out the features or you fall at the bottom of a 50’ jump, it’s important to get out of the way.
“Cutting in between features and stopping on landings of jumps is the biggest mistake you can make,” says Ross Powers, head coach of the Stratton Mountain School Snowboard Program and 2002 Olympic Men’s Halfpipe Gold Medalist.
“People above may not see you and they’re not expecting you to be there.”
If you’re not riding the park, stick to the decks next to the features (good spots for filming) or the lanes adjacent to the park (perfect for skiing through).
If you are riding, look for staging areas, sometimes marked with fences or flags, above each feature.
“Staging areas prevent ‘fly-by’ users,” explains Mike Schipani, the Northstar Terrain Park Manager.
“They are a natural place for everyone to congregate, from core park users to young kids.”
If you fall on a jump, the best case is that someone will see you and close the jump (making an “X” in the air with their arms or poles). But since you can’t count on this, always get out of the way as fast as you can.
Likewise, avoid celebrating in the landing area after your first successful jump, rail or box. While you may be excited, the people behind you just want you to move, so they can ride.
4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
*Park Style: Don’t interrupt the flow.
Parks are built around the concept of flow. The idea is that everyone in the park is moving from one feature to the next. While riders might skip a feature, they still stay in the flow.
If you want to merge in and hit a feature, Hartmann suggests this analogy: “Think of it like driving into a roundabout. There are times when you can flow right in, and other times when you have to stop before entering.”
5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
*Park Style: Never hike up a jump to retrieve your lost gear.
Let’s say you just crashed. Actually, it wasn’t a crash, it was a yard sale. Now your gear is all over a landing. What should you do?
Never hike up the jump. Instead, get out of the way quickly, run to the top of the jump if you are able and close the jump. Then, and only then, collect your gear.
If you’re hurt, try to get someone’s attention so that they can close the jump. If you’re waiting to drop and you notice someone has crashed and isn’t getting up, close the jump, even if it means sacrificing a lap.
And while we’re on the subject of gear, Big White’s Seddon recommends always wearing a helmet. Or as he puts it, “helmets are cool.”
6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
*Park Style: Respect ropes and closures. Understand SMART Style.
Parks are gated. They have opening and closing hours. And when they are closed, they are closed for a reason. Ducking a rope to enter a closed park can cost you your pass. Worse, you could be injured if you happen upon an operating snowcat or hit a damaged feature.
Look for SMART STYLE signs at the entrance to every terrain park. Take a minute to review them, especially if you’re new to the park or riding with kids who may not know the rules.
7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
*Park Style: Know your ability. Pre-ride. Re-ride. Free-ride.
Hartmann calls “pre-ride, re-ride, free-ride” the terrain park mantra. It’s different for every skier and snowboarder depending upon their level.
Just as professional skiers scout lines before dropping in to film, Ross Powers reminds park users to “check everything out before you hit it.”
“Even if you hit the park the day before, things can change. Crew can add and subtract features and the snow can change. Get a feel for the park before you ride.”
What tips and suggestions do you have for terrain park etiquette?