Snowboarders Find a Half-Pipe Heaven in Colorado

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Echo Park, in Evergreen, Colo., is the nation's first resort built from scratch to be a 100-percent snowboarding park. With music blaring, it's full of jumps, rails, and half-pipes designed to get big air.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

If you asked a group of teenage snowboarders and freestyle skiers to design their ideal playground, Echo Mountain Park might be it. Nothing fancy, just bare-bones amenities, music pumping out of speakers on every turn. Echo opens this weekend. It's the nation's first resort built from scratch to be 100 percent terrain park. Instead of open slopes, it's full of a maze of obstacles, jumps, rails, half-pipes, more. Anne Goodwin Sides has a sneak peak.

ANNE GOODWIN SIDES reporting:

Eighteen-year-old Steve Reeves(ph) and a dozen other young riders are sitting in the snow with their boards strapped on, waiting for a turn to flaunt their style. One by one they launch onto an elevated metal and plastic board about eight inches wide and twelve feet long then spin down the length of it in various poses. They're competing to see who can come up with the most tweaked, styled, sick trick, something the others can't duplicate.

Mr. STEVE REEVES (Snowboarder): It's been a good amount of checks today, some Cab 270s, which is a switch going backwards and doing 270 degrees landing in a forward slide and then coming out of that, bunch of tail presses, nose presses, all sorts of 180s, different kinds of board slides, switchboard slides.

GOODWIN SIDES: Reeves, a student at the University of Colorado, says he's stoked to be one of the test crew. The kids from Echo's online forums were invited to preview the park before the official opening. He thinks the biggest crowds will come later in the season when Echo Mountain is still open, but the larger resorts are all closed. Echo is perched above 10,000 feet in the front range of the Rockies where resorts tend to get later snow that can last until May. Echo isn't on forest service land like Vail or Breckenridge so there aren't no regulations requiring it to close on a certain date.

That and it's location, 40 minutes from Downtown Denver, were what made it attractive to 60-year-old entrepreneur Jerry Petitt, who bought the land at an auction a few years ago for $700,000.00.

Mr. JERRY PETITT (Entrepreneur): I called my wife that night and said we just bought a ski area. Which went over really well.

GOODWIN SIDES: In the 70s, this was a mom and pop ski resort called Squaw Pass, named for the narrow winding road that connects Evergreen Colorado and Idaho Springs. Pettit had a different idea for the 240-acres. Researching trends in the industry, he learned that all of the growth over the last five years came from snowboarders; specifically, from the terrain parks they flock to.

Starting small, Pettit invested $5 million to develop the first 30 acres of his land into a terrain park designed by the same crew that did the Winter Olympics. But not before meeting with groups of local riders to hear what they wanted.

Mr. PETTIT: They were saying the young person didn't have the money to pay $75 for a woods ticket, to pay $14 for a turkey burger. What kept coming back to us was keep it inexpensive, make it for us.

GOODWIN SIDES: Pettit was listening. Echo's lift tickets are priced for teenagers on a lawn-mowing budget, $25 on weekdays, $35 on weekends. The cuisine, at least in the beginning, will be Spartan even by cafeteria standards. Energy bars, Red Bull and burritos will be served up by vending machines, or thrifty young patrons can throw their own Tupperware of homemade stew into one of the microwaves lined up along the wall.

But Echo's centerpiece is outside, a 23-foot high, demonic feature called Knuckles. Marc Vitelli is one of the designer masterminds behind Knuckles.

Mr. MARC VITELLI (Designer, Echo Mountain Park): There could be some pretty insane tricks, and there's probably going to be some carnage off of it. But without a doubt, that is going to be seen in magazines and videos in the next year all over the place.

GOODWIN SIDES: Vitelli describes Knuckles as a three-sided pyramid, rising into a vertical cylinder with a four-foot diameter.

Mr. VITELLI: It's game on. Anything can happen. Like I said, no one has ridden it yet. I have an idea what I'm going to do when I hit it, but I can't speak for anybody else.

GOODWIN SIDES: In keeping with snowboarding's hip, edgy image, the base lodge and adjoining cabin are designed in an industrial, urban architectural style, with corrugated steel and glass jutting out at crisp angles. The walls of the cafeteria and the XBox game room are covered in artwork by Denver area teens. At night, the park will be lit up, like a car dealership, for extended play until nine p.m. And chance are, no one will ask Pettit to turn down the music.

Ms. GAIL OVERSTOCK(ph): It's really awesome because you do have a select culture here.

GOODWIN SIDES: Twenty-year-old Gail Overstock of Broomfield, Colorado can't stop smiling. In the big resort park peppered with 70-foot jumps, riders are sharply divided into the pros and the proles, the experts and the beginners. But at Echo, there's plenty for the rider who's somewhere in the middle. Here, kids are pushing themselves to try new tricks, eyeing their neighbor, and learning from each other. Gail Overstock says there's a sense of tribal belonging.

Ms. OVERSTOCK: You a target age group. A lot of kids that, say, would be a little intimidated by the huge park and older kids, you kind of have a smaller core group here. And everybody can just, you know, really progress and learn and become a family, as opposed to, you know, a bunch of strangers.

GOODWIN SIDES: Jerry Pettit says he doesn't expect to siphon customers from places like Aspen and Vale. There's no shortage of skiers who are content to make turns in open bowls. And few parents are likely to share their kids' jones for going huge in terrain parks. But for the Baby Boomers' kids, the Echo Boomers, Echo Mountain may just be on the leading edge of a combustible trend.

For NPR News, I'm Anne Goodwin Sides.

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