For years, Dollar Mountain was eclipsed by Bald Mountain with its long ski runs. But it has become a destination ski resort in and of itself since Sun Valley began creating a playground of about 60 fun boxes, rails, tabletops, jumps, and jibs.
“It’s really brought life to Dollar—a lot more energy, a lot more buzz,” said Dollar Mountain Manager, John Matteson. “There are always pockets of people in the park, even if it’s not a busy day. We see more and more families using it. And we will see more camps and events, now that it has been declared an Olympic training site.”
According to Matteson, the terrain park makes up a quarter of Dollar Mountain’s 100 acres. The 22-foot superpipe, built to Olympic specifications, dominates the said landscape. But there’s an entry place for everyone—right down to beginners.
It all starts in the one-acre Prospector Park, which boasts gentle rollers and a three-foot half pipe. “We use the terrain there to teach skills. Kids, for instance, learn to match their skis on the side hills of the pipe,” said Sun Valley’s Snow Sports Director Tony Parkhill. “It provides a significant edge in that it accelerates learning.”
A family-cross course on skier’s left of the superpipe has proven a huge hit, as well. “We never see it without families in it—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters,” said Matteson.
The superpipe, which pipe builder Kaleb Arndt builds to Olympic specifications, attracts the high-flying Tai Barrymore. Local Olympian Kaitlyn Farrington rode it for the first time after her gold medal win at Sochi. But it also attracts those who just want to try it out for size, making tiny two-foot turns on its walls.
The superpipe leads into some of the more challenging terrain park features, including skate rails that curve up on entry and down upon exit, roller coaster rails, curvy rail boxes, and the quad wall—a four-sided pyramid made of steel and plastic.
The easier terrain features, including flat rails that users simply skim across, their boards parallel to the snow, are below the superpipe on skier’s right. Everyone has to go through a gate to get to terrain park features. Signs mark the degree of difficulty.
Sun Valley employs 10 staff—three snowcat drivers and seven shovel gurus—to polish up the superpipe, fix rough spots on the jumps and make sure jump pitches and landing zones are safe.
They change things up about four times a year, said Mike Gerstner, who gets his inspiration for new features from skateboard videos. The kids like it to be changed often, said Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation coach Andy Ware: “They like new challenges—the bigger the better.”
One thing Sun Valley won’t build for safety reasons is gap jumps, where skiers and boarders have to clear a space or hit a wall, said Matteson. You won’t find any snowcats sitting on the hill for skiers to jump over, either.
The jumps are the most popular among both competitors and recreational athletes, such as 15-year-old Wood River High School student Abbie Heaphy. “I’ve skied the terrain park every weekend since they built it,” she said. “It’s brought a new aspect to the mountain, bringing in more younger people. And I especially like the medium-sized jumps.”
In the few years the terrain park has been up and running, it’s caught the eye of two dozen national magazines and hosted 11 major photo shoots, some of them finding their way into adrenaline-injected ski films. This year’s events will include a Big Air Exhibition teeing off two 50- to 60-foot jumps leading into the 2016 U.S. Alpine Championships on Bald Mountain.
Also new this year is the GoPro Park. GoPro delivered shipping containers of hardware to four resorts, including Sun Valley and Northstar-at-Tahoe, with instructions that the resorts were not to open them before Dec. 1. Terrain park builders then went to work, hoping their park would be judged the best. Kids can win a ski pass if they produce the best video focusing on that park.
“One of the unusual things about our park is that all of it is spectator friendly,” Matteson said. “Other places, the terrain park may be a mile from the base area—some even place half their park on one side of the mountain and the other, elsewhere. Here, spectators can easily sit on the patio with a cup of coffee and watch everything that’s going on.”