Ticket to Ride

After thirty years, Squaw Pass is ready to make a comeback as Echo Mountain Park.

In 1997, Vail Resorts purchased Breckenridge, along with the Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas. Ron Burke had worked as a terrain-park designer for Breckenridge before going to Keystone to build its features. "Back when we started making stuff, everything was by hand," remembers Burke, who used shovels and rakes to carve out jumps. "Now the snowcats are designed to put stuff in. It's such an evolving thing. It really went from very simple features to very extravagant ideas. The jumps are huge now -- I mean, kids are just getting so good. The more advanced stuff gets, you can just see it in the riders."

Last season, Keystone added a quarter of a million dollars of improvements to the park; Burke's annual budget for fabricating new handrails alone is $15,000. A twelve-man crew now works on the terrain park in shifts, constantly grooming the runs and jumps and maintaining the superpipe with its eighteen-foot-high walls.

Today, almost every Colorado resort features a terrain park. "And you're always losing park-design employees now," Burke laments. "This industry is crazy because people are transferring, they're in different countries, they're doing special events. Other resorts will snag somebody away like that."

Anthony Camera
Anthony Camera

One of the resorts that has moved to the top of the snowboarding world is Winter Park, which rated fourth-best on TransWorld Snowboarding magazine's list this year. (Breckenridge rated eighth.) Only three years ago, if a snowboarder were asked to describe Winter Park, he might have conjured up images of five-foot-high moguls on Mary Jane or grandmothers in black thermal stretch pants. But that was before Bob Holme was hired as Winter Park's terrain park and youth marketing manager. Not only does the former Olympic ski-jumper oversee the design, construction and maintenance of the Rail Yard terrain park, but he's also is in charge of events and any marketing efforts directed at the under-thirty set. Terrain parks are the "marquee asset of the youth," Holme says, "and how you determine how to position it is always really critical."

Along with hiring local emerging pro snowboarders Pat Milberry and Chris Avantaggio to ride Rail Yard, Winter Park increased funding for its terrain park threefold, introducing unique features like the "replica rails," which include scale models of both the stair railing on the south side of Coors Field and one at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. "It's almost like practicing for a street rail," says the 26-year-old Milberry. "It feels very similar to what you're going to be expected to do when you go filming in the city."

The resort's largest jumps and most technical rails are located in Dark Territory, a controlled-access concept new to Colorado that requires riders to pay a one-time fee of twenty dollars for an entire season's access. "You don't have to feel sketchy with people floating around the park, and it also keeps the jumps nice and fresh and super-solid," explains Milberry.

Terrain designers at the bigger parks have been following Echo Mountain closely. "It all comes down to who's building it," says Burke. "The idea is great. It's close to the city. Everybody is jibbers these days. They want it all: hips, spines, pipes. That place is prime-time."

Holme believes Echo Mountain will help build the industry by catering to riders who otherwise wouldn't head to the mountains. "I think it's going to make the pie bigger, it's not necessarily going to cut another slice in it," he says. "These are people who wouldn't have gone to Summit anyway, so that's basically making more terrain-park visits."

But everyone's withholding final judgment until they see the finished product.

Doug Donovan spent the fall of 2004 preparing for the Clear Creek County commissioners. "There are about fifteen pages of zoning regulations that one has to satisfy," he remembers. "You've got to have a water report, a sanitation report to deal with waste, a traffic analysis, a geologist report. Those things take time."

And the commissioners weren't the only ones who had to give approval. Donovan needed the support of local snowboarders, too. Ed Wickholm, a 24-year-old rider who lives in Evergreen, attended the county hearings after seeing a sign posted by the road. "When we heard about it, we couldn't believe that this was actually going to be built pretty much up the road from our houses," he says. "So we were like, 'Hell, yeah. We've got to get out there and support this.'"

After the county planning commission approved the rezoning, Donovan had to deal with the development review, which carried more requirements. "It's nerve-racking," he says. Then a county health-department official complained about the septic system for the future lodge's restrooms. Since the official felt the facility needed a wastewater system that could supply a whopping fifteen gallons of water for each person, it was too big for the county system, he said, and would have to be bumped up to the state system -- a permitting process that would take about eighteen months.

The project couldn't go before the development review board without the health department's approval, so Donovan and Petitt appealed the septic-system requirement to the board of county commissioners. Ultimately, they got the county's approval, but they were months behind schedule. They'd hoped to begin construction in the spring of 2005, but it was July before they could put their shovels in the ground.

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