Skate Nation

Colorado's becoming a mecca for skateboarders. But for the best parks, you'd better head for the hills.

For street skaters like Robinson, the park to hit is Fossil Creek in Fort Collins. The plaza of stairs and rails was much cheaper to build than the city's other, below-ground park. Tim Altic, who designed Fossil Creek as a consultant to a city-hired landscape-architecture firm, sees his role as interpreter between the skateboard world and the city. "It's not a matter of engineering; it's not a matter of architecture; you know, it doesn't even matter what rules the city has," he says. "Skating is skating, and there's the rule."

But landscape-architect groups that continue to get the country's biggest contracts often don't recognize the rule. "They don't know what they're doing," Altic says of the Architerra Group, which built the Denver Skatepark. "They're not skaters; they don't build good timing into their parks, the rhythm that you pump speed. They don't build that feeling into it, and that's why it's not so good."

Mance overboard: Executing an invert at  Tim Altic's 
groundbreaking course in Crested Butte.
Eric Magnussen
Mance overboard: Executing an invert at Tim Altic's groundbreaking course in Crested Butte.
Concrete dreams: Grindline founder Mark Hubbard 
skates all his designs.
Adam Conway
Concrete dreams: Grindline founder Mark Hubbard skates all his designs.

The principals of the Architerra Group, Dean Pearson and Mike Taylor, are seated at a long conference table in their Littleton office, a converted one-story house on a former ranch sandwiched between C-470 and the foothills. On the walls around them are colored sketches of soccer fields, streetscapes, bike paths and riverwalks; there are also posters detailing the Denver, Lakewood and Sheridan skateparks.

Pearson and Taylor met at MDG Inc., a local environmental-design firm, where they worked on the wonky Parker skatepark and then helped design the Thornton skatepark before forming their own outfit. Over the past five years, skateparks have accounted for about 25 percent of Architerra's business, says Pearson, who used to skateboard back in the '70s. Although he admits that he's not much of a skater these days, he says he makes an effort to ride every one of the parks his company's designed. But it's clear that he doesn't see Architerra as skaters designing skateparks; he views the company's role as more of a conduit for the community's wishes. "We're not interested in telling other people what they should be skating," Pearson says. "Skaters have the final say on how each feature should look and how tall it should be."

The process of building and managing these projects has become a hot-button issue for parks directors, according to Regan Dickenson, editor of Parks and Rec Business Magazine, which ran a ten-part series on the subject. "A lot of it had to do with the fact that they were getting user demand" -- and not only from skateboarders, he says. Alternative activities like BMX and trials mountain biking, in-line skating and even mountain boards and razor scooters are chipping away at the popularity of conventional, ball-oriented sports with young people.

"We have this book called Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture," explains Joe Eads, senior landscape architect for the City of Arvada, which has earmarked $500,000 for two more concrete skateparks. "It says, you know, here's a baseball field and you've got 320-yard baselines, and this is five feet from that, etc., etc. Well, there's no Time-Saver Standards for skatepark design."

Spread across Architerra's conference table are plans detailing the various design stages of the Westminster skatepark, the company's latest project, due for completion early next year. The plans evolve from pencil-drawn sketches to prints marked in red pen to final technical blueprints. Westminster originally hired Architerra to design a skatepark back in 2000, then scrapped that plan after Vans, the skateboard shoe company, opened a 55,000-square-foot indoor skatepark at the Westminster Promenade. But that state-of-the-art facility -- with its $15 entry fee -- couldn't compete with Colorado's plethora of public skateparks, which were not only free, but didn't have the "tranny nannies" who enforced Vans' strict pad-and-helmet requirement. After the Vanspark closed in 2003, Architerra was brought back on the job.

Architerra began the design process, as it usually does, by conducting a series of workshops with local skaters, BMXers and Rollerbladers, trying to get a general consensus on what the Westminster park should look like. (Out-of-state, skater-owned firms might hold only one workshop before coming up with a final plan; Grindline didn't hold any face-to-face meetings with Trinidad skaters.) The Westminster skatepark meetings were advertised in the city's community newspaper as well as on its television channel. Fliers were also posted at two local skate shops, and boarders from the far corners of the Front Range managed to show up.

The skaters who attended those meetings fell into two categories: thirty-something skate veterans and junior-high grommets who got their first boards last Christmas. Such a split in age, skill level and terrain preference (big, vertical transitions versus curbs and small stairs) can make integrating everyone's needs a challenge, says Pearson. And some skaters have no clue what they want. "You'll literally get an eight-year-old kid who says he wants a twelve-foot half-pipe and he's never skated a six-foot half-pipe," he points out. Since the older, more experienced skaters know what they're talking about, "often in the skatepark process, we'll zone in on those older guys and get some of the details from them."

In Westminster, one of those guys was Jason Heidecker, 33-year-old skater, ramp builder and electrical engineer with the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Boulder. Heidecker can often be found riding around local skateparks with a calculator and notepad in hand, taking down figures on radius, height and distance. He's assisted several landscape architects with skatepark design, offering technical advice and even submitting AutoCAD drawings. He doesn't get paid for the hours he puts in or get credit on the final product. He does it "because I hate seeing crappy skateparks," Heidecker explains. "I think it's horrible. It just bums me out that much when I go to skate a park and I'm not even stoked because it's not laid out right and I have the ability to look at it and think, 'Oh, man, if I could've moved this just twenty feet over, it would be all right.'"

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