by Pat Kennedy & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hat makes a ski resort fun? There may not be a simple answer to the question, since there is an ever-increasing diversity of people hitting the slopes. It used to be a simple formula: Mountain + Snow + Chairlift = Good Times.
In the last 10 years, however, urban influences have made their way onto the hills. Famous winter events like the X Games evolved to their current state of popularity through their freestyle roots in snowboarding. Around the world, terrain parks are now a standard feature at major resorts.
In Washington, the Summit at Snoqualmie is leading a successful charge into the youth market. With four parks spread over two of the four base areas, no other resort in Washington can match the square footage dedicated to terrain parks. Certainly the proximity to Seattle helps make it effective for the Summit to devote so much acreage to terrain parks. Such playgrounds are a magnet for the urban-influenced hill slider.
The connection to Spokane in all this is the ringleader in charge of how those features are laid out and managed, Spokane native Krush Kulesza. However, the Summit at Snoqualmie isn't the only place around with the right location for a vibrant youth market. The geographical similarities between the Summit and Mount Spokane are downright obvious.
In Spokane's backyard, only 22 miles away, is a new terrain park at Mount Spokane. This season, Mount Spokane has expanded its space committed to those snowboarders and skiers who want to spend time in a good terrain park. In addition to increased acreage, Mount Spokane's management has taken measures to insure a fun, functional design by consulting with Kulesza.
Any season pass holder at Mount Spokane over the winter of 1992 saw a red 1970 Volkswagen van in the parking lot that rarely moved all winter. For better or worse, and in sickness and health, the owner of that van was in love with snowboarding -- and still is. The act of sliding down a mountain is addictive, and the last 20 years of snowboarding have created some people who live for it. You know you're hooked when you spend your winters living in a van in a ski resort's parking lot, surviving on leftover corndogs.
I recently caught up with Krush to get the lowdown on what's going on in the evolving snowboarding business.
So, how much were leftover corn dogs at Mount Spokane back in '92? & r & They were three for a buck at the end of the night. Back then, Mount Spokane had the best corndogs in the world, and the girl in the kitchen would always make sure there were extras left when they were closing up.
At what point did you realize you wanted to make a living with snowboarding? & r & Since my first day at Red Mountain, I've known that I was going to spend the rest of my life snowboarding. But I don't remember ever wanting to necessarily make money when I started Snowboy Productions. I just wanted to have cooler events and try to make snowboarding as fun as it could be for me and my friends. I'm very fortunate that now, nine years later, I can pay my rent off of snowboarding. I remember my Career Awareness teacher Mr. Shoemaker telling us that if you can get paid for something you would do for free, then you've found your gig.
Why did you leave the Spokane area? & r & I had gone as far as I could there, so I had a choice: either go to a different market and try it there or get a 9-5 job and stay in Spokane. I didn't want to look back in 20 years and go, "Man, I wish I would have given that a shot." That's when I was approached by the Summit at Snoqualmie. They were looking for someone to help lead a new focus on terrain parks, events and the youth market it general. It was definitely hard leaving the comfort zone and all your friends for the unknown, but it was the best decision I've ever made.
The Summit at Snoqualmie has a thriving contest scene for snowboarders and skiers. Why do you think it's successful? & r & Because the events are put together with the riders in mind. So many events are controlled by some guy who could care less about the actual experience. I've been the kid at the contest wondering why the promoter is so concerned about having the sponsor's banner just right but it doesn't bother him that the jump sucks. If you put on an event that the kids are stoked on, with good features, prizes and a cool vibe, then sponsors and everyone else will be stoked. It's not rocket science.
Do you think ski resorts need contests or terrain parks? & r & Resorts that don't cater to the needs of their customers will not make money. If resorts don't make money, they will go out of business. That's as simple as I can make it. Resorts that didn't allow snowboarding saw it affecting their bottom line because the family was going to another resort where their kids could snowboard. So many resorts use this "family resort" image to justify why they don't want to be too youth specific. But the terrain parks are the same as the snowboards were 20 years ago -- the kids want quality terrain parks and events. They watch the X Games and read the magazines and see these great parks, and if there's a mountain in their area that caters to them, they're going to get their parents to go to that mountain. And this is a place where a smaller, less "destination" resort can make their mountain more attractive to skiers and riders.
The Holy Oly Revival seems to stand out among all the contests at the Summit for the last two years; why is that? & r & Because it's not really a contest, it's more of a gathering. I've been fortunate enough to compete in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom for the last 10 years, and in my mind that event is the benchmark for snowboarding. I've tried to keep the same integrity and passion that Amy and Gwynn Howat have poured into the LBS as the model for my own events, and I think the Holy Oly is the best I've done. I call it "A celebration of Northwest snowboard pride."
I just wanted to have a freestyle event that would be a reason for all generations of snowboarders to get together and reflect on what a great place we get to call home. It's just a big open jam where a next generation kid like 10-year-old Jacob Krugmire can drop in after a legend like Peter Line or Joey McGuire in the shadow of a 40-foot tall beer can. It's also cool because of all the support it's had.
Peter Line showed up the first year and that really legitimized it; Joey McGuire and Terry Parker help shape the pipe every year; Eric Hoogan, Jamie Lynn and Nick Russian have done the artwork for the posters. Lib Tech has been the best sponsor ever, and my General Manager Dan Brewster, who last year decided that we were going to use four million gallons of water to make enough snow to still pull off the event on a year we were only open 24 total days. From the budget side, it made no sense, but we did it because it's the right thing to do -- sometimes that's more important. I guess the Holy Oly Revival is about paying respect to those who led the way and looking to the potential the future holds.
Before you left Spokane, you had put on events at Mount Spokane like the Kan Fest series. Are you doing anything like that this year at Mount Spokane? & r & Yeah, I'm stoked to say we're coming back to the Kan! I started a rail jam called "Jib This!" a few years ago here at the Summit, and now we're going to do a version of it at Mount Spokane this spring. I think it's going to be on March 4.
Since Mount Spokane is where it all started for you, what is it like consulting with them this year? & r & It's really cool to be working with Brad, Denise and the rest of the crew up there. They are really open to new ideas and take a real ownership in the new direction of the terrain park program, and I get to work with my longtime friend and Snowboy Productions partner Neil Green on this project, so that's the clincher.
It's also very validating. All the things I spent years saying were important in regards to resorts have come true here at the Summit at Snoqualmie, so now it's much easier to get people to buy into your vision because you've shown that it works. Mount Spokane has so much potential; I'm just stoked to get a chance to make things cooler for the kids coming up nowadays.
Snowboarding has given me so much. It's provided me with lifelong friends and so many great experiences that I think it's my obligation to give back to it. And if I can make a kid's mountain experience better then it was when I was a kid, then I've done my job.
I recently discovered the Northwest has the highest average of youth snowboarders in the U.S. The national average is 29 percent with the low end coming out of the Rocky Mountain region at 21 percent. Here in the Northwest, we blow the average away at 43.2 percent [according to the National Ski Area Association]. Do you think the Northwest will remain the highest youth snowboarder per capita region in the country? & r & Hey, they don't call it the "Great Northwest" for nothing. I've had rad times at a lot of different areas, but I can't see myself ever leaving the Northwest. If the resorts keep making it fun to come up and snowboard, then I don't see any reason why it would change. If you provide a better product, then you will get more customers.
The resorts need to give people a reason to want to try skiing and snowboarding, and the people who buy season passes and lift tickets should expect more from the resorts that they give their money to.
To keep up on events at Mount Spokane or the Summit at Snoqualmie, check out www.mtspokane.com or www.summitatsnoqualmie.com.