The halfpipe was smoking. Yes, actually smoking: Blue Mountain’s first-ever halfpipe, built in 1998 by employees with farming backgrounds, was filled with tight stacks of hay bails. When stored wet, hay bails tend to catch fire and smoke, even under the snow. The pyrotechnics were never serious, but still—a lot has changed since then.
words and photos by Nelson Phillips
What used to be a PVC jib park where riders would gap over junk and old tires is now Ontario’s fastest lapping terrain park, a 65-foot step-down, and a competition-ready advanced slopestyle course. The evolution progresses each year, benefiting from a clean slate as soon as the snow falls. To give riders a chance to warm up, the park has traditionally begun its annual life cycle as a happy-go-lucky ride-on, vying for crowd-pleasing jibs and jumps and opting to leave its advanced features until people get their snow-legs back. The metamorphosis continues, adapting into an informal training course for premier athletes from all over the northeast corner of the continent.
Cue Mike Towers, Blue’s Terrain and Bike Park Manager. He oversees the development of the renowned Ontario mountain bike park all summer, and the terrain parks dans l’hiver.
“Design, layout, staffing, I even get in the snow cat every now and then to push snow,” says Towers. “We have in-house welders that will build rails for us, and some of the bigger rails we purchase from local guys.”
The entire design process is a group effort, with two key cat operators working overnight, every night. Two supervisors come together with the on-hill crew to assist in scheduling and orchestrating a plan of attack, and in turn they all come together with Towers and Pete Sutcliffe, Blue’s Director of Mountain Experience, to collaboratively plan an innovative and exciting park design.
“Our first design usually lays the groundwork for what we build later in the season, provided we have the right amount of snow… We progressively build small and medium features before we have snow in the Badlands Park. Anywhere on the hill where we have free space, we’ll put a small or medium rail park. Once we have the snow required for the big park, it’s normally a two-day build and that’s when we’ll start putting jumps in—from 20-25 feet, until the end of the season when we’ll have 60-65 footers.”
The collaboration between Blue’s dedicated park builders and groomers doesn’t stop there; when an anticipated major competition and its promoters come to town, Blue’s park crew will sit down with the extended group and brainstorm ideas for new key features they feel will stoke the riders, while making sure the park’s faithful ridership is considered as well. Even the opinions of Blue’s team riders are reflected—who also contribute ideas to consistently keep on top of how the park feels and flows.
A lot of planning goes into each evening of park maintenance, and with the build crew fueled by a strict overnight diet of “coffee, Red Bull, and candy,” every feature gets thoroughly tested by an eager batch of groomer guinea pigs each morning.
“This is normally a month or a month and a half out from a competition, and we’ll incorporate it into the daily operation of the park… closer to the actual date, we’ll build it up if need be,” says Towers.
Consider it value-added, because there’s always a huge swath of dedicated people behind your park—people who tirelessly maintain a fine balance of everyday rider usability with the advanced set-ups required of a world-class park. This is a crew dedicated to pushing the envelope and stoking riders, while making sure the entire process, construction and design, is approachable and transparent.
As you’re reading this, rails are being primped, snow cats are undergoing maintenance, and groomers and designers are thinking ahead. These guys and gals are ready for winter, all year around.
Aside from regularly neglecting the people you love to obsessively manicure a snow park each and every night, the sentiment from Towers is, It’s worth it. A lot of planning goes into each evening of park maintenance, and with the build crew fuelled by a strict overnight diet of “coffee, Red Bull, and candy,” every feature gets thoroughly tested by an eager batch of groomer guinea pigs each morning before the lift opens at 10am.
Chatting with Towers reveals that the love going into the park is universally acknowledged, from its riders, to the groomers, to the supervisors. The feedback they receive from everyone—national competition stakeholders and 10-year-old park groms alike, goes into the design and flow of Blue’s collective park landscape.
“It’s a park built for riders, by riders. That’s the way we like to look at it.”
For more Blue Mountain terrain park info, check https://www.bluemountain.ca/mountain/terrain-parks