Once upon a time, ski resorts were considered to have made more than adequate provision for their clients if they could offer a few drag lifts, some more or less pisted runs and possibly a hut selling on-mountain pie and beans. (All right, that menu is a bit Cairngorm-oriented, but you get the idea.) These days you can’t hold your head up as a wintersports venue unless you’ve built multiple restaurants offering three-course lunches and table service, dug out your drag lifts and replaced them with heated chairs complete with plastic covers, travel rugs and DVD players, and invested in an army of piste bashing machines whose operators spend every night moving snow all over the mountain in order to make sure no-one ever has to ski anything other than flat corduroy. And people wonder why lift tickets are expensive these days.
The other big must-have in these modern times is a snowpark, without which you might as well give up and go home, as for some reason anyone with aspirations to be any good at it at all seems to feel the need to be able to whizz along backwards while occasionally hurling themselves off things the size of a three storey building. Preferably while wearing a T-shirt big enough to host a wedding reception.
The snowpark is home to creatures known as ‘park rats’ who spend all their time either airborne or sitting down. These individuals pay just the same amount as you do for their lift passes and get royally ripped off as they only ever use three lifts – the telecabin which gets them to midstation, the 50m drag which goes to the top of the park and the chair which gives them access to the halfpipe. They are easily identifiable by their enormous clothing, odd habit of wearing a beanie under their helmets and the fact that they invariably have a wet arse.
Parks are generally designed to give the impression that they are reserved for cool people, which is why they are so arranged that all you can see from the nearest piste is a series of what look like small buildings (or occasionally quite large buildings) covered in snow and interspersed with the odd lethal-looking fence arrangement, possibly sporting some baggy-looking individual sliding along it sideways on skis with both ends turned up. There are obviously some small manageable-looking jumps and other features, reserved for small children and people with normal risk assessment skills, but these are generally hidden behind some terrifying halfpipe arrangement with vertical walls six metres high.
The exclusivity factor is maintained by the fact that there’s a whole new vocabulary to learn (though if you catch anyone saying either ‘sick’ or ‘gnarly’ and taking themselves seriously you are definitely within your rights to take the piss). If you want to sound as though you ought to be in there you need to be able to make casual use of terms like kicker (a jump), step-up (another jump), big air (a bloody enormous great jump), rail (a bit of fencing) and box (a wider bit of fencing). Got it? Oh, and bear in mind that what you are doing is not skiing or snowboarding but ‘riding’.
Once you’ve got the hang of all that you are ready to sneak past the coolness police into the kiddy area, where you can start in on activities probably more suited to a flying fox than a middle-aged once a year skier who has a proper job to go home to and can’t afford to spend the next six months in an all-body plaster cast. But assuming you avoid serious injury you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that within a couple of days you’re happily flying through the air along with the mobs of kamikaze six-year-olds who usually inhabit that particular part of the park.
All of which means you are now ready for Stage II, which involves learning to appreciate a musical experience broadly similar to being clubbed to death with a lump hammer while a load of American criminals shout at you about drugs, ‘bitches’ and being shot.