As evidence that this conscious coupling with sideways-sliding creates the perfect breeding ground for radness, Sage Kotsenburg – who officially saved snowboarding in Sochi 2014, not with a crazy hair-do but by dislocating his shoulders to pull off a Holy Crail with lots of spins in the slopestyle – lives and shreds here.
It has to be said (cf. Sage’s double-jointed brilliance) that the freestyle set up in Park City is excellent. In addition to the superpipe, some of the best kickers I have had the pleasure to hit (almost as good as Breck), and the umpteen green rails / boxes / wrecking balls / other random bits of metal for sliding on…there is Neff Land – which is a candy-themed terrain park, and perfectly set up for kids and/or those wanting to be childishly playful. The mini-shred features are great for dicking about in a low risk environment, and even better for groms wanting to step up their freestyle schnizzle.
What is particularly bodacious about Park City’s freestyle set-up is that (with the exception of Neff Land) it is all open until 8pm at night, under floodlights. So you could theoretically not get up until mid-day, having spent the previous night getting hammered in O’Shucks on Main Street, and still rack up the equivalent of a full day’s shred. Or you could spend all day cajoling, coercing and cosseting your kids, and then (with a spousal accomplice granting you leave of absence) spend a couple of hours of “me-time” busting out some jumps. Or you could spend all day building a mountain out of mashed potato and playing tunes on a Casio keyboard, and then still go snowboarding for a few hours – all options are open.
What is less bodacious, if you have young kids or (as my wife does) an issue with heights, is the lift system which services (some of) the base of the mountain and the freestyle terrain in Park City.
Now, as a qualification to what follows, there is a different vibe in the USA when it comes to the issue of the safety bar on a chair lift. In Europe, you will literally get the lifties swearing and pelting you with ripe fromage if you haven’t got the bar down within three seconds of planting your buttocks onto the seat. Stateside, people generally seem to think you are being a dick if you want to put the safety bar down. This isn’t just too-cool-for-school park rats, but middle-aged mums, retired accountants and (even more weirdly) some ski instructors I encountered.
“it is clear from observing the topology of the area that when it dumps, Park City and Canyons will present an incredible array of options”
On dozens of occasions over the last month, I have had other chairlift passengers indignantly retort “Oh, really?!” when I asked to put down the safety bar (I prefer to rest my foot on a lift, rather than have the weight of my board dangling on my ankle for ten minutes. Go on – call me a dick why don’t you).
So with this prevailing attitude, the complete absence of a safety bar on a lift is probably no big deal for most Yanks. But when you have kids, particularly young wriggly kids with low-friction salopettes who have no concept of plunging to their death from a chairlift if they keep sliding about, it makes for a very uncomfortable experience. In any other circumstance, if you regularly let your kid sit on a narrow ledge, twenty metres up, in high winds, with nothing to stop them from falling off, you would almost certainly have your children taken into care and likely be featured in a double page spread in the Daily Mail. In Park City however, this is a requirement for getting up to several areas of the hill (via Town Lift and Eagle Lift), or for accessing the freestyle terrain (Three Kings for the main park, Eaglet for Neff Land).
Juxtaposed with the splattering of lawyer-sponsored “GO SLOW” signs and the prevailing tut-tut attitude of many Americans to breaking the rules (my groms kept being told off in Park City for holding onto the ropes in the lift queue, or entering the queue through the “fast lane” when they weren’t actually in a lesson – even though no-one else was around), this lack of basic safety seems all the more bonkers. For my beloved spouse, it made for a genuinely stressful situation, which massively tarnished her enjoyment of the resort. Her mild vertigo went into full-blown raging “the kids are going to die” mode each time she got onto one of these lifts.
It’s almost as if the resort hasn’t wanted to invest in new infrastructure, knowing that a transformative deal was about to happen…
Which, by co-incidence, it has.
Park City and Canyons are about to become a combined resort – following Park City’s $180m acquisition by Vail Resorts. (Vail Resorts own / lease lots of resorts that aren’t just in Vail). Canyons, just over the hill from Park City is already part of the Vail family, so Vail are spending another $50m to link the resorts with a gondola, upgrade some of the resort restaurants and improve some of the high-volume lifts.
“The lifties make you feel like you are the Fonz crossed with JP Solberg just for managing to get your ass onto a chairlift and not looking like a total dork”
Annoyingly for vertigo suffers and parents of young children, none of the $50m will be spent on safety bars for Town Lift, Eagle, Eaglet or Three Kings. So you will still need to invest in carabiners to attach your kids to you, and you to the lift if you want peace of mind when heading up the hill on those chairs.
It will however create one hell of a resort. Even if lots of the Park City staff are really grumpy about it.
There is a really interesting back-story to the takeover of Park City by Vail Resorts, which with some basic Googling you can read all about. To boil it down, the previous (and long-term) owners of the right to exploit Park City as a ski resort literally forgot to extend their lease one year, so Vail went and whipped it from under their noses and paid for it instead. People sued, counter-sued, sued again about the suing…and eventually they settled – enabling Vail to officially take over Park City from 2014/15.
As a dad to snowboarding kids and as a husband to a wife who loves getting compliments, I think this is great. Why? From my experience thus far, I can see that Vail Resorts have imbued into their staff at some key principles:
- Be incredibly friendly to everyone and smile loads, ask if they have had a good day.
- Be very helpful to anyone with kids, especially when they are getting onto chairlifts.
- Pay people huge compliments the whole time about their steez.
The experience of getting on a lift in Canyons (or any of the other Vail Resorts) is like getting a sugar coated high-five which then rolls into a fist bump of ‘nuff respec’ which then rolls into a back rub which then could possibly end in something sexy if you were ten years younger. They make you feel like you are the Fonz crossed with JP Solberg (or Jane Fonda crossed with Jamie Anderson if you are lady) just for managing to get your ass onto a chairlift and not looking like a total dork.