Frequently Asked Questions
Nope. We love the creativity and variety of every park and we think it needs to stay that way. We want to assist the terrain park designers/managers in some of the calculations and engineering best practices that will keep them out of litigation. For example, many smaller park jumps still keep a continuous radius all the way to the lip takeoff which can cause an inexperienced rider to "backseat" risking unwanted inversion. To you this is probably obvious, but it's not happening at all parks and its opening the riders to injury and that resort to litigation. The terrain park designers can still create whatever they want, but it needs to have some engineering to reduce injury risks to the riders and thereby reduce liability risks to the resorts. The industry is now moving towards the fact that some engineering needs to go into terrain parks, and the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) is looking into the possibility of forming standards. ASTM would mostly consist of engineers working together while the USTPC strives to be much more inclusive. We respect ASTM's efforts, but worry that standards may lead to standardization if only engineers make all the decisions.
Great point. USTPC understands that these criteria need to hold up in the real world. That's why any angles or measurements that are involved in the criteria, are always given in ranges. One can't expect a perfect 28 degree landing everyday, but one could expect that landing be within 26 - 30 degrees (just an example, it would depend on the take-off angles obviously). Similarly, for designing speed controls, the snow's coefficient of friction varies over the season, but still lies in a range of values which are incorporated in the flexible criteria. For resorts that choose to participate in USTPC's Smart Parks certification program, before the season, a team of experts meet with the resort staff (terrain park manager, risk management, tp crew, etc.) to explain the criteria, let them know what is expected, and how, in practical terms, they can successfully meet the criteria.
No. USTPC treats the results of any certification visit as strictly confidential with all the products of the audit belonging to the resort to use as they wish. If the resort is doing a great job and receives a Smart Parks certification, it can use that achievement in their marketing. If there are issues that need to be addressed, it can quietly work to make the necessary improvements and seek a re-evaluation. Or it can choose to do nothing. It is entirely up to the resort.
Obviously weather plays a big part in the maintenance of the park. A perfectly manicured park can look drastically different after a good snowfall or a few 55 degree spring days. This is where the Educational Seminar (Step 1) of the Smart Parks Certification program comes in handy. We set the resort up for success right from the start. At the end of our one-day educational seminar, the terrain park manager, risk manager, park crew, resort management and all attendees will have the needed toolset to stay within the USTPC ranges all year long. When a particularly big snowfall comes through, the park may need to be closed temporarily until the proper maintenance can be achieved (really, who is riding park on pow days anyways?). The general idea, is that once a jump feature, rail or box becomes anything other than the original design intent of the feature, and is no longer within the acceptable measurement ranges, then maintenance needs to be administered to get it back to what the designer initially wanted. When a road gets too many potholes... you close it down and patch it up... right? The Smart Parks Certification program will give you the confidence to know exactly when the jump feature needs to be maintained.
There certainly are a lot of factors involved in this industry. From changing weather conditions, to differing skill levels of the park patron, to rider variability and beyond. Without trying to cover every single potential variable that can happen out there, let's touch on a few major ones. Rider variability is one of the most common concerns with utilizing engineering in terrain parks. What the park patron does just before they get airborne can affect their trajectory immensely. The USTPC understands the challenge in such diversity, but also understands that it is a bound equation. Although there is quite a bit of variance, that doesn't mean you just throw out the possibility of using physics to help understand the flight path of the majority of riders. Think of the building industry. There will always be hurricanes and tornadoes, but we don't stop constructing buildings. Rather we just implement some engineering standards that should be followed to best serve the public safety. We can't design for every incident possible, but we can come up with industry best practices. Similarly, you can design a jump feature to the maximum "pop" or maximum "absorption" of the jump lip, particularly with a set starting or "roll in" point, factor in wind shear and friction coefficients. If someone hikes up way past the roll-in point, bombs past all the roping and signage towards the jump and "pops" as hard as possible, will they overshoot the landing? Quite possibly. But the resort can rest assured that they did everything in their power to mitigate the risk, and that particular park patron would clearly bear the responsibility.
Another issue is malleability and weather which we covered in an FAQ #4.
Let's touch base on one more major variable; differing park patron ability levels. With riders coming at jumps with almost any angle, speed and intent, can we ever design for park features that work for every type? We think so. For beginner and intermediate jumps, you can make some minor adjustments to the feature to work well for almost every skill level, whether they straight-line it from the roll-in point or they speed check 6 times. By matching the trajectory of the flight curve more closely, we can greatly increase the "sweet spot" of the landing beyond just those riders who hit it with the perfect speed. These minor engineering alterations in the basic jump feature will give the user a larger window to land in versus having to hit a very small sweet spot between the knuckle and flat.
So, although there is a lot going on out there, the range of variables is only so large, particularly in a more controlled environment that is implementing engineering and industry best practices. It may seem tough to wrap your head around all of the potential factors going on in a terrain park, but the Smart Parks Certification program helps with exactly that. Our aim is to lasso all of the aspects, provide the resort with a checklist to watch over, provide third party documentation of all they are doing right and take some of that pressure off the already busy resort management.
We are getting that question a lot lately, particularily from Terrain Park Designer and Cat Drivers... and it's a really good one. Although the terrain park industry is not broke, it may be in need of a serious tune-up before it does break. First, recent epidemeological studies (M. Henrie, et al., ISSS Congress, Keystone, Co., 2011) have found that rates of head and spine injuries injury in terrain parks are twice the rate of those outside of parks. Most of these injuries are in jumps involving poor rider decisions, but sound engineering can mitigate some of the potentially tragic consequences of those bad decisions. That's where Smart Parks Certification comes in by complementing the incredible technical skills of the terrain park designer, manager and cat operators with appropriate sound engineering design practice. Most park designers or cat drivers don't need to get overly involved in the litigation side of the industry. Our officers are regularly approached by plaintiff lawyers to work as expert witnesses, but we must decline every time as our Board of Directors and officers are barred from any snow sports related litigation. We are not in the business of making money suing resorts. Although we will not participate in these suits, we do get to see that side of the industry and it can get pretty ugly. The park designers are typically not the ones getting sued, so it might be easy to underestimate the reach and challenges these suits pose to the industry, but they are very real and the USTPC is trying to get out in front of this to be sure that these suits don't "break" the terrain park environment.
The goal of the USTPC is to incorporate some best practice engineering into terrain parks (primarily the jump features) so it is unlikely that a resort will be found OUTSIDE the inherent risks of the sport. Most State Skier Safety Acts have included Terrain Parks as part of the inherent risks of the sport. Unfortunately there have been many lawsuits in the past, and sadly more that have recently been filed, that are claiming that the park was designed "negligently"; so much that the jump is no longer included WITHIN the inherent risk of the sport. We all remember the 2007 case that awarded $14 million to the prosecution because the jury felt the jump was designed incorrectly. Almost every park in the nation was shut down for a few days and our worst nightmare seemed to be coming true. The TP industry wasn't broken, but maybe that was the "Check Engine" light going on.
I think we all just secretly hoped that it was an isolated case and there wouldn't be another. Sadly, it was not the last. Obviously the park patrons MUST be responsible for their actions, but unfortunately, in a court of law, the precedent has been set that jumps can either be built right or wrong (within inherent risk versus peripheral risk). These suits keep being filed, and they normally range between $10-$20M. It would seem obvious that at some point the insurance underwriters and resort management may decide that they just can't justify the risk any longer. Remember, Terrain Parks in the form that they are now have not been around very long. The lawsuits that don't side with the plaintiff are still costing the resorts hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal counsel on these drawn out cases. This may not mean that the system is "broken", but it does threaten the future of parks and we probably don't want to wait till it breaks. Think of how badly it would hurt the industry if all park revenue evaporated. It might not be broken right this minute, but if it does break, it will be much harder to fix after the fact.
So how do we address this issue? Standardize parks to the point that you have to pick from a menu of neutered jumps? Let's hope not. To us, the greatest thing about visiting a new resort is exploring the unbelievable creativity of that particular designers imagination. If you standardize parks to the point where they become boring, vanilla parks all around the country, we might as well not even construct them.
That is why the USTPC set 'Criteria' that the entire industry gets to have a voice in formulating. The USTPC Criteria is different from standards in the fact that they deal with particular aspects of the jump, not the entire jump shape. The USTPC Criteria are proposed measures that can be implemented into a terrain park feature that will help minimize the risk to the user and can range from curvature limits, equivalent fall heights, maximum run-in length and many others. The goal is to set criteria that will both minimize the risk to park patrons and be easily implemented in day to day park operations. If a potential Criterion is not easily implemented, or overly limits creativity, the Board of Directors will most likely vote to dismiss or revise the Criterion or order further research. Our technical staff need to work alongside the park users, designers and cat drivers in an effort to ensure that each Criterion will work in the real world, not just on paper.
With the Criteria, Park Designers can still design practically any creation they want, but they will be able to implement some basic engineering principles into the beginner and intermediate parks (large competition style features will not fall under the criteria or will have supplemental Criteria). The jump can still be almost any size, length and dimension the designer can imagine, but the basic engineering will be there to let the park designer know they are still within the limits of inherent risk. It's not fair that we ask terrain park designer, maintenance crew and manager, who are already enormously good at what they do, to also have an engineering background or expertise on Newtonian physics. That is how we can help, by taking the pressure off a bit. We take any guess work out of it and ensure that the design is not opening the resort to any unneeded potential litigation. This will let the Terrain Park manager and Risk manager sleep better at night knowing that all their bases are covered.
Even the parks that are already working hard to implement as many safety features possible (and there are lots) are still exposed to a lawsuit. That's where the USTPC's Smart Park Certification program comes in handy. Although many of the more sophisticated parks document their operation and maintenance already, if the resort gets sued, it comes down to one side's word against another. But, if they have the independent third party documentation stating that they have implemented proper engineering Criteria, as well as roping, signage, traffic flow, etc, then the plaintiff's lawyers will have a weaker case, which will hopefully keep them from filing the next suit altogether. Having that third party independence is crucial and will be just the additional support needed if a case were to be filed. The USTPC stands behind the documentation and the resorts safety goals.
We did not want to create a non-profit relying on donations or fees to support the efforts. Our Smart Parks Certification program not only allows a powerful tool for the resorts, but allows the USTPC to continue it's research and analysis independent of charity. USTPC is a non-profit that is permitted, under IRS rules, to recover its expenses plus overhead for the Smart Parks Certification services it provides.