Words: John Clary Davies
When POWDER Editor Keith Carlsen asked Mark Sullivan, the editor of SNOWBOARDER Magazine, which is owned by the same company, about bringing professional skiers to their annual Superpark event, Sullivan laughed him off. It was 1999. Skiing was lost. And definitely not cool enough to share a park with snowboarders.
Carlsen persisted. Salomon 1080s, the New Canadian Air Force and a whole new scene was emerging within skiing. Carlsen wanted POWDER to embrace freeskiing and give the athletes pushing the sport a place for it to evolve. Ultimately, Sullivan agreed to let POWDER use their Superpark, when SNOWBOARDER was finished with it.
What happened next changed skiing. Superpark was like a growth hormone that sped the sport's pubescence. In the early 2000s, skiing was changing really fast, and everybody wanted to be a part of that.
In its six-year run at Mammoth, then Mount Hood and lastly at Mount Bachelor, Superpark hosted the likes of Candide Thovex, Tanner Hall, Shane McConkey, J.F. Cusson, Philou Poirier, Mike Douglas, Pep Fujas, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Sarah Burke, Eric Pollard, Mark Abma and C.R. Johnson. You know, just all the skiers who had the biggest influence on skiing over the past decade. Superpark wasn't a contest. There wasn't prize money. McConkey's 150-foot straight air, Thovex's 110-foot cork 5 tail grab, Johnson's Bio 9 opposite hand tail grab, Matt Collins' 180-foot backflip, Hall's huge flat spin and Poirier's switch backflips were all the result of an organic progression of really good skiers sessioning really big jumps at a new place called Superpark. Below, those involved reflect on its impact.
Edited by legendary filmmaker Kris Ostness, this film features the best footage from Superpark 4 with archive highlights from Superpark 1, 2, and 3.
Keith Carlsen: Years before Superpark, we were covering that part of the sport, but we weren't embracing the athletes. They didn't know us. Everyone was very happy that POWDER was embracing them and POWDER was going to support them. No other magazine had ever done that.
Mike Douglas: At that time the sport was changing really quickly. Every week there was something new being done for the first time and I think Superpark was the place that everyone looked forward to in the spring, because we knew we were going to see some jump that was so big, that we hadn't seen before. We knew somebody was going to step up and do something crazy, and that pretty much happened every year.
Tanner Hall: That was kind of one of the first big events I went to. I got invited to Superpark and when I got out to Superpark, it pretty much opened my eyes and made me realize that this sport is here to stay.
Carlsen: Everyone was surprised at what we were doing. That first year it was all excitement. The halfpipe was this rotted out u-ditch. It was tiny and awful.
Hall: I was a mogul skier at the time. To be around (the other skiers') presence opened up a hunger part in my brain to be like, 'this is what I want for the rest of my life.'
Carlsen: Year two to year five, it escalated from this new thing that was happening that was thrown together and grassroots to being very detailed. You had Candide there throwing huge D-spins over 100 foot tables, so it quickly escalated to a big deal, something really important. Then Freeze imitated it, ripped it off and made Parkasaurus.
Hall: This is when I was 15 years old, and it was at Mammoth. Yeah, man, I remember McConkey tried to straight air the biggest table ever. It was like a 40-foot step down and almost looked like a 150- or 200-foot launch. He did a big straight air over it, launched it, like cleared it by a good 100 feet and ate shit. That was probably the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life up until that point. I didn't even really know who Shane McConkey was, and then I met him there and went home and did my research and was like, holy fuck, I pretty much watched the legend do a legendary maneuver.
Douglas: I think every year stretched your idea of what was possible. At that time, it was weird, because you think it would plateau, and then all of a sudden it would just go crazy again and someone would fully step up and push it farther, and higher and faster.
Eric Pollard: The biggest thing I remember is Candide. It looked like a full on video game. That was unreal. I hadn't seen an air that big before, and I haven't seen one that big since. It was unreal how high he went off the deck on that—like 40 feet off the deck or something. I think I just sat and watched most of that Superpark.
Matt Collins: Superpark 3 at Mammoth was awesome. There was this huge table thing and Candide stepped up and started clearing it and the whole ski community witnessing Candide do his thing, and it was like, 'Okay, this guy is way better than everybody else.' To see all the other pros just jaws to the floor, like, holy shit. Candide was the man.
Sage Cattabriga-Alosa: That was a legendary moment. That was what Superpark was all about.
Douglas: The only other time we all came together was at a contest. That was one event in the spring where everyone could relax and people weren't feeling the pressure. In terms of 'Oh, I got to try and win.' It was more like you get out there and screw around and work the small features, while everyone is looking at the big jump like, 'Who's gonna do it?'
Carlsen: The next thing you know, one of the hits would become the epicenter of the morning or the afternoon and it would just turn in to this two- or three-hour session on this one jump until someone had basically taken top honors on it and that would happen naturally, which was a beautiful thing.
Cattabriga-Alosa: It felt pretty awesome. It's cool because the vibe of those events, all these people showing up and the camaraderie was rad and it's cool to see the session get started and people go off. Like, whoa, this is evolving things right now. Things are happening really quickly. That's a cool feeling.
Douglas: At that time, Superpark was the only place that you saw those kinds of features.
Collins: So Superpark got away with it for three or four years before everybody else realized this is the norm. I mean Superpark still holds an allure as a really creative place, as a thing to happen every spring. It really paved the way to show that you can go pretty big on skis.
Carlsen: Chris O'Connell, who was a staffer at Freeskier—his photos could go nowhere else other than Freeskier—showed up at our halfpipe at Superpark. I remember (POWDER Photo Editor Dave) Reddick and I getting into this yelling match with him and saying, 'Dude, what are you doing here? You can't be here.' And him saying, 'Dude, I can be here.' The guy just posted up and started shooting POWDER Superpark for Freeskier and that says something. A competing magazine just posted up and didn't care what we thought. They wanted the content that badly.
Carlsen: Everyone just started doing their own 'Superparks.' Even the word Superpark, every mountain took that word. SNOWBOARDER coined that shit. I think every Superpipe and Superpark, the whole credit should come back to SNOWBOARDER Magazine.