We are honored to present in this article our partner in the field of Terrain Park safety – US Terrain Park Council (USTPC): a non-profit, litigation-neutral community of Riders, Engineers, Medical Professionals, Risk Managers and Parents, stepping in to keep parks from becoming a thing of the past due to the ongoing pressures of litigation.
Partnership with US Terrain Park Council will hopefully enable us to provide you with an even more detailed and interesting content regarding terrain parks, especially from the perspective of safety, and to spread this terrain park certification into the wider European area.
Safety in Terrain Parks is raising concerns due to the lack of regulations and guidelines, however restrictive rules developed solely by engineers and other experts without including rider’s perspective may drastically limit the further development of freestyle snowboarding and skiing.
The terrain park design and construction community around the world is unbelievably advanced, but historically there has not been much engineering in the park design. Many of the best designers have a very good sense of the scale and speed, but it’s still exposing a resort to potential litigation” says USTPC Board Director Adrian Wisniewski.
Until now there has been little done in the area of Terrain Park safety that is why ski resorts are getting dragged into court to defend their park and the message is becoming loud and clear – if you design, construct or maintain a terrain park in a manner that can be deemed outside of an inherent risk of the sport, you could be found liable. Most of these cases are in the 10’s of millions of dollars range and if they continue, terrain parks are at risk of being flattened at every resort. Regardless of the jury’s decision, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on legal expenses that must be made up elsewhere.
Parks that are being designed with industry ‘best practices’ have no way to prove it in a court of law. Although many resorts document proper maintenance, without a third party certifier, it becomes one lawyer’s word against another. When someone is severely injured in a park and a lawyer looks into the potential case, there has been nothing to protect the terrain park manager, the ski resort staff and the insurance company from litigation. If these lawsuits continue, resorts will be forced to quit building terrain parks altogether or “standardize” them to the point of diluting any creativity.
Most of us remember when the majority of terrain parks in the country were shut down in the spring of 2007 due to a major lawsuit” Wisniewski continues. “The USTPC is protecting the existence of terrain parks by implementing engineering criteria, along with providing third party certification to ensure that a resort is doing its best to minimize risk. It’s really pretty simple.”
“The Smart Parks Certification program sets resorts up for success,” says Dr. Jim McNeil of the USTPC. “The criteria are meant to let Terrain Park Managers and Risk Management sleep better at night knowing they are doing the best they can. USTPC takes the guess-work out of it.” Dr McNeil, President and Board Director of USTPC, is a Physics Professor at the Colorado School of Mines.
He first got involved in the physics of park safety when his son would come home banged up from a day of riding park. “He would complain of landing flat, usually due to over or under shooting the landing; so I decided to formulate a physics model that predicts the impact on a skier or snowboarder, allowing for smarter designs. It took into account the “pop” of the rider, the temperature of the snow, the take-off and landing angles, wind, etc. It became obvious, that with some minor adjustments to particular characteristics of the jump, along with designated roll-in spot, the ability to land in the “sweet spot” increased drastically, thereby reducing the impact on a rider significantly.”
In further research, he found that the industry did not employ engineering design or have a developed set of “best practices”. “I was very surprised to hear that there is currently little to no engineering being incorporated in terrain parks” says McNeil. “For an activity that reaches so many people throughout the world, with such high risks, there should be, at the very least, some basic design engineering before a park is open to the public. So I started to gather as many industry and technical experts as possible to see if we can make a change for the better. This is where the USTPC begun and it’s been amazing to see the reaction from pro-riders who have been asking for this for years. Just a few changes to the park features can make an amazing difference and put a lot of minds at ease.”
The USTPC created its Board of Directors, which includes pro-riders, engineers, doctors, architects, youth mentors and more. They came up with a set of “Criteria” and posted it to their quickly growing online membership who in turn voices their opinion on each of the proposed Criteria. The Board then votes on the Criteria that will make it into the Smart Parks Certification process for that upcoming winter season. “It’s an incredibly open and academic process that strives to listen to the entire voice of the industry’ says Wisniewski. “The Criteria not only need to minimize the risk to park patrons, but it has to work in the real world with the cat drivers.”
Will park patrons still be injured in terrain parks? Of course”, says Wisniewski. “People get hurt walking down the stairs every day, and terrain parks are no different. Sending your body off of a jump 50 feet in the air is always going to have a level of risk. But will they be exposed to liability in the way they were in the past? Absolutely not. The resorts now have the ability to rest assured knowing their park is Smart Park Certified.
For more information on USTPC and Smart Parks Certification please follow this link.