For five months, I made money as a professional Terrain Park tester at Northstar California, in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas by Lake Tahoe. For those of you who are new to or know nothing about the world of winter sports and ski resort operations, let me explain what a terrain park tester is.
At a ski resort, a “Park” is not simply a place with grass, swings, and benches, where people may take a stroll through of a Sunday afternoon. (Although some ski resort parks do have benches, and um, grass). I once heard someone referring to the terrain park as full of “death machines”, and I’ve heard mothers trying to convince their small children on skis to dare not venture in there. What it really is, is a place where the resort builds jumps, halfpipes, rails, and other creative features that skiers and snowboarders ride on. If you watched the Olympics, think of the halfpipe and slopestyle events. That’s a terrain park. I test them.
O.K, so maybe I wasn’t a “terrain park tester”, but it sounds cool… and dangerous. Park Crew was my official job title, although some may refer to us as “the groomers”, “park staff”, or “the boys” (even if, by some miracle, there are actually girls on park crew, like me). Park Crew actually does a lot more than ride around all day and smoke pot (the latter, by the way, I personally do not partake in).
I knew this job would be a good fit for me, mainly because I love to ride the park. During my job interview, they didn’t have enough chairs in the office, so my boss pulled up an empty paint bucket and flipped it upside down and sat on it. There were also puppies running around the office. It was then that I felt I could loosen up and be myself, even interviewing for a job at a world-class resort. I got to talk about my ideal terrain park, even using words like “de-gape-ify”, and all the words they tell you not to use at job interviews like “super cool” and “gnarly”. A few hours later, they told me I got the job. I hesitated to take it at first, because I had just graduated college with a business degree, and people have this idea that park crew isn’t for people with degrees. But then I was like, what the heck, I’ve always wanted to be park crew for a season. Now’s my time.
So, like I said, we don’t just ride around and test features all day, as much as I wish that were my job. We do so much of the nitty-gritty work that needs to get done, like putting up the fences at the exit, and tightening rope lines that mark the boundaries of the resort. It’s crazy the stuff I never noticed even after years of riding at ski resorts. Like, someone has to put up all those signs and fences and take them down every day for the grooming machines to get through.
Think ski patrol is always the first one on the hill? Think again. at Northstar, park crew is up there even before ski patrol, and we’re off the hill after them. We see the sunrise and the sunset in the same shift, and not just at the end of December either. We are 20 guys and 2 girls out there in the freezing-your-butt-off cold, making sure Northstar’s terrain park is nothing short of perfect. We are out there with our “sporks” which are like a shovel and a rake in one, shaping each takeoff to make the features ride smoothly for the skiers and snowboarders to come.
When it snows, we shovel all the snow off the 100+ rails and boxes, only to go back out in an hour and shovel again like a never-ending cycle. When it doesn’t snow, we shovel snow back on to the rails and boxes so they don’t fall over. At the end of every day, we use those trusty sporks to hand-shape every takeoff, beaten up by thousands of skis and snowboards. We’re out there on those really hot spring days, riding down the run with our big buckets full of salt to spread on takeoffs so they ice over rather than melt. 60 degrees feels like 90 when you’re in the sun, raking slush off a jump takeoff and melting snow on your head to cool the heat. Shoveling in the winter is tiring, but spring is a whole different tiring.
Despite all this hard work, people still look at the terrain park department differently. We’re the misfits. At a ski resort, the departments like ski school, marketing, real estate, and ski racing teams, are looked up to as the “ritzy”, classy departments that make the ski resort what it is. Skiing and snowboarding have become less of an extreme sport and more of something rich people do on vacation. Kind of like yachting or eating caviar (I don’t know what they do, I mean, I’m not rich people.) Over here in the terrain parks world, guests and upper management do think of us as, like I said before, riding around all day and smoking pot. We are, as people in my department have said, “the red-headed step child” of the resort.
Some guests though, do treat us like heroes. They will see us out there making the park look good, and say things like “Thank you for your service!”, “You rock”, or “now there’s the real MVP!”. I’ve heard parents ski by and tell their kids, “OK, little Johnny, now make sure you say thank you to the park groomer!”. We get fist bumps, high fives, and the occasional person taking time out of their ski run to tell us how fun the park is.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had people yell expletives at us after closing the halfpipe. I’ve even been mooned on the job. People spray us, pee on our rails, call us “gay”, and complain to us because their favorite rail to side-jump is closed for 5 minutes. Some days, people go out of their way to mess with us, taking all the flags off the jumps and throwing them into the woods just to see us have to put them back every 10 minutes.
So you do lots of hard work, and most people don’t even see it, and sure you might get a little recognition, but you also get people mooning you and swearing at you just for doing your job. So why do it?
Every day, tons of people come through our terrain park, the product of our hard work, our pride and joy, and its obvious they’re having the time of their life. From the kid with the edgie-wedgie side jumping every rail takeoff on presidents’ day, to the guy in a unicorn onsie doing 1.5 backflips off the big jump, the park has to be the funnest place on the hill. People laugh and smile and take videos of each other. They fly through the air and glide over rails. People of all ages are out there in the park having fun, and seeing that makes park crew’s day.
And yes, when we’re not raking, drilling, shoveling snow off features, shoveling snow back on features, getting flipped off, loading the chair with 50 pounds of salt, yelling at little kids in landings, putting back jump flags, untangling ropes, driving big machines, lifting fallen-over rails, or setting our alarms for 5am…
We’re testing the park. ;D
It’s my birthday! All I want is safe, clean water for a family in need.
For you and me, it’s easy. We can just go to our faucet, or the water fountain and fresh, clean, safe drinking water comes right out of the tap. But for many families who live in developing countries, safe water is not a guarantee. It’s not even often easily accessible.
That’s why this year I’ve pledged my birthday to raise money to provide families with safe, clean drinking water! Just $79 will provide a filter for a family which will give them clean drinking water for the rest of their lives.
Join me in giving water filters to families who face the dangers and unseen diseases, such as worms and parasites in their water. Help me give them peace of mind, knowing that with their new filter, their family will be safe from debilitating sickness like cholera and typhoid.
"Ooooo Yah... Just gonna send ettttttttt"
No idea why we spoke in funny accents all day, but we sure had a blast despite the lack of early season snow!
My senior capstone project for my major of ski resort management at Sierra Nevada College was to build a virtual ski resort on google earth that has at least a 10,000 person capacity (Think Northstar sized) and fits in a budget of 110 million dollars
In addition to chairlifts and trails, my partner and I had to plan out the base area, all the buildings, parking lots, machinery to buy, snowmaking, tree clearing, and all those other details an average guest might not think about.
It was a pretty fun but difficult project and I am proud to see it all come together, especially the fold-up brochure map I designed to look like a real ski resort's.
Here is our executive summary that I wrote:
"We are a diverse ski area with great learning facilities and beginner runs, a killer terrain park, plenty of blue groomers, and chutes and cliffs for those who want it. Located 4.5 hours from the bay and almost due east of San Francisco, we are a weekend and destination resort. 2 miles off Alpine Highway 4, it is a perfect, remote getaway from the traffic and crowds. Fly into Reno and make an easy 1.5 hour zip down Highway 395, avoiding the buzz and touristy-ness of South Lake Tahoe or the traffic of North Lake Tahoe.
With 6 high speed lifts, 3 quad chairs, and a gnarly tow rope on the far side of the hill, Tryon Peak boasts a base elevation 1,500 feet higher than most in the Tahoe basin, a peak elevation 0f 10,825’, and a mid-mountain lodge 300 feet higher than the peak of Northstar. Averaging about 470 inches of annual snowfall and joining the 700” club in the 2016-17 season, Tryon Peak is up there with some of the snowiest places in the West. Even on the lean years you can expect our reservoir-backed snowmaking system to deliver 5 chairs, ranging from green circles to black diamonds.
From wide-open powder bowls, to tight trees, to steep chutes and hot laps through our endless park we are sure you will find something to love about Tryon Peak. We have five zones for a skier to choose from. You can cruise green runs or lap the park on Lower Mountain, or hop on the steeps chair for a challenge right from the get-go. If you want a quick getaway to some wide-open faces and steep chutes, go right from the base area to the 10,825-foot top of our Highland’s zone via Highland’s Access Express. For some awesome trees and backcountry-esque lines, check out the backside, which tops out at 10,101’. The west side, accessible via Tryon Peak Chair, is another great zone featuring Intermediate and Advanced groomed runs. Finally, sitting above Noble Lake, featuring everything from blue groomers to narrow chutes, the Upper Mountain is another great place to have the time of your life. Our groomed runs total 411 acres, which are groomed every night by our 12 cats. In addition, we have 77 acres of designated double black terrain, including chutes, cliffs, and steep alpine bowls.
When you get into the centralized base area you will be able to choose from one of four chairlifts to start your day on, five if you include the Magic Carpet. Within minutes you can be out of the shuttle and up in the midst of paradise. While you’re in the main base lodge, book a lesson with one of our PSIA-AASI certified instructors, drop off your kid in Ski School, rent some skis, or swing by our retail store to get that one thing you forgot (I’m sure we’ll have it).
We have three gourmet restaurants to choose from to enjoy a treat away from home. Trough Valley Restaurant is conveniently located at the main base area. 8,900’ Grille is our mid-mountain lodge located by Noble Lake, where you can take a break from ripping it through the upper mountain. Finally, stashed away at the bottom of the backside, featuring plenty of outdoor seating, check out hidden lodge at the bottom of Koney Express to truly feel you are in the midst of Mother Nature. Enjoy views of Bull Lake and the famous 10,101 foot Binary Peak.
So what are you waiting for? Come try us on, you might just stay."
Would you ski here?
Closing Day at Northstar was a blast. I try out freestyle rapping too! Check it out.
It is an interesting concept to think about — the people you cross paths with and perhaps will never meet again. The people you wish you could have a second chance at meeting. The thought would come to mind sometimes that maybe, just maybe, the person I was supposed to fall in love with had already passed through my life without either of us noticing. What if, by some crazy fluke of divine intervention, the world would show two people just how small it is?
A good looking, snowboarding, Jesus-loving man, and I’ll probably never see him again. Do you even know how rare that is? I thought, as I drove back home down Highway 80 towards Reno and back to the Tahoe area that cold January night. I guess it’s just one of those things. I didn’t dwell too much on it. I didn’t think too much about what could have been or even that I had “blown it.”
Besides, no guy has ever shown interest in me in the past 19 years. Why would that suddenly change? I guess I had become numb to the relationship drama around me since my friends first started finding love in middle school. I didn’t want to hear any of it. I had just kind of accepted that it would never happen to me. Maybe my standards were too high or I just wasn’t “getting after it” enough.
That evening, I had participated in an entry-level snowboarding competition at Boreal, one of my local ski resorts. It was a rail jam event, so naturally, there were only two girls and about forty guys. The other girl was a professional snowboarder, so I wasn’t too bummed about receiving second place. Besides, I was still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, my first injury that season, and I was glad to be back on my board. I say first because two weeks after this event, I managed to injure myself a second time by dislocating the other shoulder trying to backflip on my snowboard.
“Nice cross sticker! Jesus is awesome!”
I looked to my right and there he was. He wore a black helmet and camouflage jacket. His face was shielded by ski goggles and a face mask. I did, in fact have a cross sticker on my helmet I had cut out myself and stuck front and center. A few people would notice it now and then — usually other Christians. This was the last place I expected to hear that. These Friday night rail jams were quite the show. People drank beer, smoked weed, and swore like sailors. This young man was like the light that shone in the darkness.
The competition went on and we saw each other each time we hiked up to the top of the drop-in of the competition venue. We would talk briefly about what trick we planned on doing or how our last run went. The rail jam format was a casual one where you had an hour or so to hike up as many times as you could and do tricks on rails, which you were given a score on. We watched people throw backflips, clear huge gaps, and jump onto three-foot-tall rails. It was a little intimidating, and I didn’t know anyone else there except this one guy I had just met.
I hoped to see him again and get to know him more after the competition during the awards ceremony, but when I left the hill and went into the lodge, he wasn’t there. I received my second-place-out-of-two prize bag and went on my way. I didn’t even get his name.
Life went on for the next eight months and I didn’t think much of this interaction. Those eight months went on just like the rest of my life up to that point — devoid of any meaningful attention from the opposite gender. It was a fun time in my life though. Snowboarding season continued, I finished my sophomore year of college, and I worked a fun summer job at that same ski resort teaching kids to snowboard on a small patch of man-made snow.
Shortly after school started, I attended a get-together for college-aged people. There were about seven young adults total, some new faces and some familiar. I always liked talking to new people, so I sat next to a guy I had never met before. He had dark hair, thick eyebrows, and was wearing a silver cross necklace and a pink, flowery ring.
“I was on my way here and I picked up a couple hitchhikers. They were all Chinese girls, and when I dropped them off they gave me this pink flowery ring and asked me if I had a girlfriend. When I said no, they told me to find someone to give it to,” he said, justifying his manly piece of jewelry. I kind of liked how it looked on him.
I had never hit it up with a guy like that before. We talked about random things — whatever came to mind really. I remember talking about my summer job, my passion for cooking, and how my grandma was a princess in Burma. He told me about his time in Alaska over the summer — how he had lived on a glacier taking care of sled dogs and flying helicopters. Then he started talking about snowboarding. Loves Jesus? Check. Single? Check. Into snow sports? Check. That was a good segue into exchanging contact information so we could meet up in the winter and snowboard.
This time, I wasn’t going to blow it. We exchanged numbers on Thursday, and since he hadn’t texted me first by Tuesday, I took the first step. I invited him to a beach party that was happening on Saturday. I felt more comfortable having a reason to text him rather than just starting with “hey ;)”.
I know the rules: Always let the guy text first; don’t make the first text an invitation; if he waits longer than three days he is not interested; make him jealous. I gave the finger to convention, since the last two decades of my life had shown me that waiting around and playing by the rules did not get me anywhere.
He responded about two minutes later with not only a “Yes, I’d love to come”, but also some actual effort in keeping the conversation going. I flipped when I received the first “good night” text two days later. I screenshotted it and sent it to my two best friends to whom I told everything. Keep in mind, I had never even been as far with a guy as texting just for fun. This was uncharted territory.
When Saturday rolled around and we both showed up to the beach party at Lake Tahoe, we seemed to connect just as well as we did the other night. Towards the end of the party, about thirty of us were in the lake in a big circle throwing around a beach ball.
“Let’s go and swim out!” he told me. I followed. The water was cold in spots and warm in other spots. We saw a ski-doo not too far away and swam towards it. When the two if us reached it, after looking around for the owner, we climbed up on top. We joked about how we should try to hijack it. When one of us would move, the whole thing would tip over. We almost capsized it a few times.
We sat there on the ski-doo so long just sharing our life stories that the party was almost over when we swam back to the shore. After everyone left, the two of us stayed there and continued talking. Since we were both snowboarders, the conversation drifted towards that.
“I’ve only ever been to one snowboarding competition,” he said, “and it was last winter in Boreal.”
“Ha, no way! Was it in January?” I asked, since I was at that one as well.
“Yeah, it was!”
“Remember there were like, two girls?” I said, “I was one of them. I was wearing a bright green jacket.”
I think both our minds were blown when he said, “You had a cross on your helmet, didn’t you?” He was the man I thought I’d never meet again. This is the sort of crazy stuff that happens in fictional romance stories, not real life.
Now, when people ask us how we met or how we started dating, I say, “It’s kind of an interesting story.” He keeps telling me he is glad we have a storybook tale, rather than “I bought her a drink at a bar,” or one that could be summed up in two words like “in college.” Not only is the how-we-met story unconventional, but so is our relationship. Instead of expensive dates, we go on adventures such as hiking off-trail, rock climbing, or skateboarding in Santa Cruz. We both fix our cars and do the dishes, and he owns more shoes than I do. During the winter, we snowboard together every weekend, even returning to the spot where we originally met.
Since starting our relationship, we’ve found other weird coincidences that made us laugh, like how his middle school Myspace account was sk8terboy and mine was sk8erchick, or how that pink, flowery ring given to him by those hitchhikers an hour before we met ended up on my finger. Through a combination of putting the rules aside and a crazy coincidence, we had found love. I’m not here to spark a conversation about predestination or fate, but it does provide food for thought.
Photos and writing by Hanalei Edbrooke
You can say we had some fun taking advantage of the 9 new feet of snow that fell last week! Check out this video we put together.
The huge, steep cliff faces. The wide-open powder fields. Caples lake, which freezes over in the winter and turns royal, turquoise blue in the spring. The narrow chutes create a ski run so steep, you can be standing up straight on your snowboard facing the hill, reach up, and touch the mountain face. Although not the first place I ever set foot on a snowboard, Kirkwood Mountain, CA is where I spent most of my time snowboarding for about four years. It is where I tried my first backflip and where I spent my 15th through 18th birthdays. The term ski “resort” doesn’t do the place justice; the people who go there go for the extreme terrain and the feeling of remoteness in nature. It’s both a Christmas wonderland and a place where Mother Winter can let out her wrath.
Kirkwood is one of the more remote ski resorts in the Tahoe area, located off highway 88. You’re driving down this winding, narrow path with tall snow banks on both sides, the road often snow-dusted or icy, breezing past sandals-and-shorts-clad people from the Bay Area looking at tire chain manuals and scratching their heads. You might even pass an upside-down car in a ditch. Suddenly there’s the sign — Kirkwood Mountain Resort. As you turn into Kirkwood Meadows drive, the ten-thousand-foot sheer cliff peaks of the mountain stare down at you. Because of the location and altitude, Kirkwood receives more snow than most places in the area. For storms to get to Tahoe, they must first pass over Kirkwood and let out their glory on the mountains there.
It’s December 21st and I’m out in the Palisades bowl building a jump into a soft, open, powdery landing to learn backflips. Palisades is a place in Kirkwood only accessible by hiking. There is no chairlift that goes up to this place — it must be earned. You get off Cornice Chair, the lift to the top, and traverse right for about half an hour. When you’re out there, you don’t feel like you’re at a resort. You can be out there all day and not see another soul. That’s what it was like for the four of us — my coach, teammate, brother, and I.
Riding or skiing alone in the backcountry is not an option. Tree wells, avalanches, cliffs, and rocks are only some of the dangers you may face. A tree well is where it snows a couple feet and the tree covers the ground around it, leaving a deathly sink hole waiting for people to fall into. It is one of the leading causes of death from skiing or snowboarding.
There was, in fact, a moment when riding with my friend at Kirkwood probably saved my life. It was the last run of the day and my friend and I decided we would head to a place called “Shamwah,” which is a chute just past the “caution cliff zone” sign. Because it was early in the season, we ended being “cliffed out,” which is when you reach a point in the run where there is no other option other than to fall down the sheer, rock face. I remember taking my snowboard off, trying to climb down the rocks, and realizing I was completely screwed. I felt like I couldn’t safely climb down or up, and I was stuck in the middle. My phone was dead and I didn’t have ski patrol’s number anyway, but luckily, my friend had her phone and she called for help. He came to where we were and helped us climb down the cliff. Crisis averted.
In-bounds, avalanches are not a serious problem because of the bombing. I live for the days when I go to bed with snow falling outside and wake up to the sound of avalanche bombs. The dull thud off in the distance is a beautiful sound because you know it is going to be an epic day. On those days when Mother Winter feels like showing off, the resort operators need to be 100% sure their guests are safe, so they trigger avalanches in advance so the mountain is safe to ride on. That is somebody’s job — to be the first one out on the hill, play with guide dogs, make explosions, and ski fresh powder. That white, fluffy, stuff is a euphoria unique to Kirkwood. While all resorts have powder days, Kirkwood’s are the best. The perfect conditions can last for days in some hidden spots. The slopes are steep enough so you are less likely to get stuck in the deep snow. The crowds are much less and the back bowl stretches out forever.
Lift Ten, otherwise known as The Wall, is the most iconic chairlift in Kirkwood. At both the top and bottom of the chair is a skull-and-cross-bones sign with the words “experts only.” Of course, some hot-heads who think they’re better than the sign and have only been snowboarding a few times decide to test the validity of this statement. However, once you’re about halfway up the chair, you begin to see just how treacherous Chair Ten is. Unlike most expert chairlifts in other resorts, there is no “easy way down”. Ski resorts rate their ski runs from green squares to black diamonds, with green being the easiest, blue in the middle, and black as the most advanced. If one black diamond doesn’t do the run justice, more diamonds are added to the rating. There are only double black diamonds off Lift Ten. We call the people who decide to ride down the chairlift “downloaders.” Their shame and embarrassment while sitting on that downward facing chair is tangible sometimes.
While still a dangerous, menacing mountain that deserves respect, there is a certain kind of peace that can be found in these places. Picture a blank white canvas as the sky. Huge, light flakes of snow whisper their way down from the heavens and drift slowly towards you. Picture the trees all around, caked with millions of these snowflakes. If you’re still, you hear nothing. If you’re moving on your skis or board, the sound is like when nylon rubs against nylon. If you look close enough at your jacket or gloves, you can see the individual flakes. You wonder how nature could have possibly created each one, although I’ve heard it is just a myth that every single one is unique. You think about the amount of effort and intricacy it would take to make just one — so delicate and fragile. What is more beautiful — the individual flake, or the collection of flakes that blanket a vast mountain landscape? These are some of the moments when I see God.
No strings attached! Want the chance to win a high quality, brand-new Coalition snowboard? go to the website above to be see the details. 5 snowboards will be given out in the month of November. You might just get lucky this time! I ride these boards and they are the bomb!
Hanalei Sian Souza
Snowboarder. Writer. Chef. Singer. Disciple of Jesus.