By Mark Morical The Bend Bulletin
MOUNT BACHELOR — I was determined to catch some air — on the smallest jumps I could possibly find.
A skier turned snowboarder, I learned to ski and ride before the whole terrain park evolution. So here I am in my 30s, but willing to try what is most definitely a younger man’s game.
Sure, I’d rather be shredding powder, like most skiers and snowboarders. But because a significant portion of the Mount Bachelor ski area is dedicated to terrain parks, I felt like I had to try them at some point.
The terrain parks — areas with jumps, rails and other free-ride features — at Bachelor are set up with different skill levels in mind. Beginners can start out at the Short Sands terrain park near the Sunrise Express chairlift and eventually move up to the intermediate and advanced terrain parks near the Skyliner Express lift.
“You have to be careful when you’re starting out, because there’s a lot that can go wrong,” said Ben Watts, an 18-year-old pro snowboarder from Bend, Ore. “You need to progress up to something bigger. You should start at the smallest (easiest) park there is and get good at those. That’s how I did it.”
Short Sands was where I would start — and where I would stay on a sunny, fresh-powder day.
The first feature was a flat box, on which skiers and snowboarders are supposed to slide. I skipped it because, well, I was scared.
But still focused on getting air, I hit the four successive jumps at slow speed, barely making the down-sloped landing on each.
On my second and third attempts at the park with small features, I went faster and faster off the jumps. Finally, I experienced that breathless feeling of actually catching some real air, soaring perhaps 5 to 6 feet high off the final jump.
I had successfully ignored my instincts, which were to stay as close to the ground as possible.
“It’s tricky for anyone to get past the mental stuff,” says Watts, who competes in halfpipe and slopestyle. “That’s the biggest aspect of it, being able to push yourself just a little bit more, but not too much, because that’s when you get in trouble.
“Really, to do it in the safest way, it can take a few years to where you’re actually going onto the bigger features confidently.”
So I will stay away from the bigger rails and jumps near the Skyliner lift for the time being, at least until I improve in Short Sands.
Knowing the “Smart Style” guidelines for terrain parks is also crucial. One of them in particular caught my eye on the signs posted at the Short Sands park: “Your speed, approach and takeoff will directly affect your maneuver and landing.”
“You have to make sure you’re taking off the jump with the right balance,” Watts advised. “Once you’re in the air, you can’t really fix anything. That’s probably the biggest concern.”
When riding terrain parks, skiers and snowboarders should maintain a standard riding stance, according to Watts, with their knees bent and their weight centered. When they hit a jump, they can “pop” with their legs, affecting how high and far they travel through the air.
Terrain parks can include jumps, tabletops, hips, pipes, boxes, rails, jibs and wall rides.
Riding a terrain park for the first time is a lesson in humility even for seasoned skiers or snowboarders, who look on with amazement as kids as young as 6 fly off the jumps and grind the rails with relative ease.
Following the trend of the last few years at many ski resorts, the terrain parks at Bachelor are among the most popular runs on the mountain.
A staff of groomers goes to work when Mount Bachelor closes every day at 4 p.m. The groomers fill in ruts with snowcats and shape the jumps and rails. The park crew checks the parks each morning and puts up flags and signs so riders know where to find the features.
“The crew is out there all day, every day, raking and shoveling,” says Andy Goggins, director of marketing and communications at Bachelor. “We invest a significant portion of our resources toward our terrain parks.”
Watts says he can remember when only one terrain park existed at Bachelor. Now, including the slopestyle arena and the halfpipe, the mountain has seven.
And more terrain park opportunities for first-timers and beginners are coming to Bachelor.
“We’re going to have some new things with some super-small features,” Goggins says. “Really focused on that initial step into the parks, with features barely off the ground.
“You have to start small and build on it.”