January 2007 Issue
Across the Board
A new sport is making waves on the ski slopes.
Jeff Kiehle comes from a long line of skiing enthusiasts. He first strapped alpine (downhill) skis to his boots at age 4, and throughout his childhood in upstate New York, found it hard to stay off the powder.
Kiehle was a member of the National Ski Patrol in the early 1980s, when a new breed of downhill snow sports appeared on the slopes.
The new guys were carving long, languid arcs in the snow using a single, wide board that looked andfunctioned more like a skateboard or surfboard than a ski. And the "boarders" had borrowed more than the apparatus - their baggy clothing, long hair and crazy hats all reflected the anti-establishment stylings of skaters and surfers. Not to mention the vocabulary, which strays far from the ballet and mountaineering influences of skiing lingo, in favor of language inspired by hip-hop.
In general, boarders were more hip and more urban than others on the slopes, and they adopted a bad-boy attitude that, at first, attracted more antipathy than affection from skiers.
"When boarding first came out, it wasn't well received by the skiing community," Kiehle recalls. "Yeah, I remember the 'Skiers Only' slopes. But now, for the most part, everyone gets along."
They don't have much choice. Fueled by the popularity of the televised X Games (devoted to so-called extreme sports) and by the overwhelming public response to such American gold medalist snowboarders as Shaun White and Hannah Teter, snowboarding has carved an important niche in the snow-sports world, and can't be ignored by any ski resort looking to make a profit.
Instead, Ohio's ski resorts are investing big money to add more trails and chairlifts, both to make room for everyone on the hill, and to set aside some slope space for terrain parks - which provide the iron railings, wooden boxes and other amenities that snowboarders use to do tricks.
As marketing director for Mad River Mountain, a snow sports resort near Bellefontaine, Kiehle knows that 45 percent of his customers ride boards, not skis.
"The industry has been growing steadily since the mid-'80s, but recently it's really exploded," he explains. "The biggest boost comes from the X Games, but the '06 Olympics was huge."
At Brandywine and Boston Mills, twin ski resorts in Sagamore Hills and Peninsula respectively, "we estimate that the equipment preference of our general clientele is about 60 percent ski, 40 percent snowboard," says Kim Laubenthal, the marketing director for both. But when it comes to the popular school ski club programs, an even 50 percent are boarders.
"The majority of those taking snowboard lessons at our resort are older children or younger adults," Laubenthal notes. "But a lot of parents whose children enjoy snowboarding are trying to learn how to ride a board as well."
The ski-to-snowboard ratio is about the same at Snow Trails, near Mansfield, which recently added a Terrainasaurus park for young snowboarders who want to try some of the tricks they see on the X Games, says Scott Crislip, the resort's business manager.
Mad River Mountain completed a $2.5 million expansion in time for this season, the largest since the resort opened in 1962. This includes new downhill slopes and an expanded tubing park, as well as a terrain park for beginners and a consolidation of three areas dedicated to snowboarders.
Brandywine/Boston Mills has three terrain parks, and the resort's operators have found they need to expand the terrain area by opening up the ski school area after the day's lessons are over.
Keeping snowboarders happy requires more than creating a trail and keeping it groomed. The terrain parks offer a variety of features - wooden boxes, iron rails, wooden A-frames - that allow boarders to slide along the surface, spin and do other tricks before flying off into the air.
"We add different features to the terrain parks each year," says Snow Trails' Crislip. "The boarders are generally younger and they get bored easily, so you have to keep changing."
Mad River Mountain recently hired terrain park manager Andy Niemeyer, to make sure that the areas are both safe and exciting.
"One of the most important things about a terrain park? Good flow," Niemeyer says. "One jump leading into another jump, so you can hit a number of things in succession, and you don't have people standing around."
Will the popularity of snowboarding eventually doom the sport of skiing? Not likely, Niemeyer explains. In fact, the lines between skiing and boarding are blurring as technology continues to change. Anyone who hasn't been on the slopes in 10 years wouldn't recognize the new flexible and sinuous boards that are modern skis. And skiers who once cast an envious eye at the terrain parks have learned that the new wide, flexible skis with turned-up tips at both ends - called twin-tip skis - can handle the pipes, boxes and A-frames of the terrain park.
"Now we're seeing more skiers staying with their skis, and not switching so much to the snowboards," Niemeyer says.
So the chasm between snowboarders and skiers continues to narrow, and that's just fine with Kiehle. While he remains a dyed-in-the-fleece skier, he finds much to admire in the younger generation of snow-sport enthusiasts.
"There's a lot of camaraderie among boarders. They're always showing each other how to do things," he says. "Obviously, a few people want to win the gold in the Olympics, but for most, it's not that competitive. Most people come to get together and have fun."
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Brandywine: 1146 W Highland Rd., Sagamore Hills
Boston Mills: 7100 Riverview RD., Peninsula 800/875-4241, www.bmbw.com
These two ski resorts operated independently for decades but have been owned and managed as one since the early 1990s. Combined, the two areas boast 19 slopes, served by 11 chairlifts - totaling more than 79 skiable acres. There are three terrain parks - one large park at Brandywine and two smaller parks at Boston Mills. Visitors should be aware that while all-area lift tickets provide access to both resorts, they are not connected by trails and there is no shuttle between them. The drive between the two, however, is only about 5 minutes.
Beginner introductory package for snowboarding is $48, including equipment rental, lesson and a lift ticket.
Mad River Mountain
1000 Snow Valley Rd., Zanesfield; 800/231-7669, www.skimadriver.com
Following an expansion, Mad River now offers boarders and skiers 23 trails - more than 144 skiable acres - served by six chairlifts, and three terrain parks, including a beginner area with its own surface lift.
Daily group snowboard lessons are $15 (not including equipment rental or lift ticket). On weekends and holidays, Mad River offers a "Never Ever Snowboard Package" for $79, which includes an all-area lift ticket, lesson and equipment rental. Introductory snowboard packages for children ages 4 to 12 begin at $58 and include a lift ticket, lesson, equipment rental and hot chocolate.
3100 Possum Run Rd., Mansfield; 419/774-9818, www.snowtrails.com
Snow Trails offers 16 trails on more than 50 skiable acres, served by six chairlifts, for skiers and boarders alike. There are three terrain parks: an expert run, a park for intermediate riders, and Terrainasaurus, a beginner-oriented slope designed for and restricted to children.
A "Let's Get Started" lesson, for skiing or snowboarding, is $59, including equipment rental. Also available are half-day and full-day programs for children, beginning at age 3 -- as long as they are potty-trained and can fit into the rental boots.
1405 Olde Rd., Findley Lake, N.Y.; 716/355-4141, www.pknpk.com
Since 1964, Peek'n Peak has offered a unique resort experience amid the beauty of New York's Chautauqua County. With 27 perfectly groomed trails and slopes, miles of cross- country terrain, tubing runs and a halfpipe, it has also become one of the state's premier winter-sport destinations.
The Weekday Lodging Package for two adults and children ages 18 and under starts at $219 and includes lodging, lift tickets and full access to amenities. Weekend lift tickets start at $48, and a Beginner Special, which includes a group lesson, beginner area lift ticket and ski or snowboard rental, is $55.
10 Snowshoe Dr., Snowshoe, W. Va.;
With 57 slopes and trails, 14 lifts, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snow tubing, Snowshoe Mountain is a favorite winter destination. During peak season, Snowshoe offers midweek packages for three nights' lodging and a four-day lift ticket for $315 per person, and two nights' lodging and a two-day lift ticket for $99 per person. On the weekend, packages begin at $357 per person.
Rt. 219, Ellicottville, N.Y.;
Spread over 1,100 acres on a 750-foot vertical drop, this New York resort offers 53 diverse slopes to satisfy the most varied of tastes.
For beginners, the Learn to Ski Lodging Package includes a midweek night at the Slopeside Inn at Holiday Valley, a lesson at beginner's ski/snowboard school, rental equipment and area lift ticket for $237 for two people. Weekend packages for two nights and two lift tickets for two adults - up to two children stay free - start at $635.
777 Waterwheel Dr., Champion, Pa.; 814/352-7777, www.7springs.com
In addition to 31 slopes and trails, Seven Springs offers snowmobile and snowshoe tours to traverse the inspiring winter terrain.
Midweek Escape Packages begin at $128 per person; Weekend Getaway Packages start at $156 per person. All packages include complimentary overnight ski check, breakfast buffet (hotel guests only), access to the indoor pool and exercise room, and discounted ski and snowboard multi-day rentals.