Where Do Terrain Parks Come From?
Taking a ride with a cat driver to get some answers
Behind every terrain park is a clan of booter ninjas working under the shroud of darkness to create the lines that launch freeskiers to superstardom, or something like it. Most skiers don’t think twice about what goes into that last money booter, but every park has a crew of snowcat drivers that burn some serious midnight oil to make it happen. Park City Mountain keeps eight of these park pushers working for most of the season, sculpting terrain parks that have become the envy of freeskiing. Gabe Westberg, PCMR’s terrain park grooming supervisor, is one of these shapers. Almost a decade ago, Westberg, 32, left his Santa Barbara surf life to drive snowcats at June Mountain. He then moved to Utah, grabbing a spot on the PCMR park crew, where he has built park for eight years. I rode shotgun with Westberg as he put the finishing touches on a massive 75-foot step-over in PCMR’s biggest park, King’s Crown, to find out what life was like behind the blade. Here’s what he had to say.
How do you get into building parks?
There’s no school for this. School of hard knocks, I guess. Actually, snowcat programs are kind of relaxed compared to other machine operating jobs because it’s seasonal and it’s not as high paying. It brings in a crazy assortment of guys, it’s a total ski bum job. You get to ride the snow in the morning and work at night.
What’s the most important trait in a cat driver?
Humility. There are a lot of egos in the cat world. It’s a bunch of guys in heavy equipment that think they’re badass. It takes a humble person to take advice and listen to somebody that knows more than they do instead of acting like they’re the best already.
How do you keep the park setup fresh?
We’re always on sites like YoBeat.com and Newschoolers.com and checking out edits from other parks to see what people have going on. It seems like the street scene is where all the creativity is going, so we put effort into creating street features.
What’s the key to building a marquee park like King’s Crown?
It’s about building the best jumps you can. With double corks and some people throwing triples, you have to think about that in a park like this, and try to create a good jump that people can progress on: big, safe, and something that gives the rider the ability to progress.
How long does it take to build Crown?
With six guys working on it full time, a little under two weeks.
You guys have built quite the freeski following, how’s that working out?
Our all-stars request jump features sometimes. Two years ago we built a big step-up specifically for Ashley Battersby and Sage Kotsenburg and they had a couple of tricks they wanted to dial before X Games. It’s mostly a request to build a jump to work on tricks before a big contest. But usually not, it’s cool because our pros come ride the features that everyone else is riding, and it’s fun seeing what they can do on it.
What big events have you guys put on recently?
F.I.S. World Championships was two years ago with both park and pipe, which was huge. We also have Grand Prix and we’re going to have a big air, so we’re getting ready to build that jump as well.
How was the World Championships experience?
I had a really good working relationship with F.I.S., and I was stoked to build a slope event after looking at all the X Games stuff over the years. We rarely get a chance to do a competition of that scale. I came up with a game plan—three jumps, two jib lines—they saw what I drew up and gave me the go-ahead. Easy as that.
Nights are long up here, how do you stay sane?
I’m a talk radio guy. Right at 10 p.m. there’s a couple of good shows. There’s this one called Ground Zero that deals with all these conspiracy theories, and then of course Coast to Coast comes on at 11 p.m., talking about conspiracies, UFOs, extraterrestrials, and the paranormal.
How about when the hunger pains kick in?
A groomer’s diet is not a healthy one—Burker King and Dominoes. Dominoes delivers right to the parking lot, so I can head down to pick up pizza in the cat. Every time I pull up down there it’s the same guy and he always asks the same question, “How do I get that job?”
Now the real question on everybody’s mind: Do you guys consider snowbladers when you’re building features?
100 percent of the time. Once or twice a year I’ll break out the BigFoots and go wild. Actually, you’ve inspired me. I think I might go snowblading now.
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