This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
Powdr, the adventure lifestyle company that counts Copper Mountain and Eldora ski areas among its empire of resorts, heli-skiing and river-rafting operators, is betting on its Woodward action sport camp model as a new way to teach skiing and grow the sport.
While the heavyweights Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. battle for vacationers and pass buyers, Powdr is designing one-of-a-kind resort playgrounds — different at each of its resorts — where skiers can learn new skills through the latest innovations in terrain park design and coaching.
The company is taking its proven Olympic-training model from its Woodward Camps, where many new-school athletes developed their acrobatic talents, and opening it to all comers.
Powdr’s Woodward Mountain Parks — free for everyone with a lift ticket or pass — will debut this winter at Copper and Eldora, with a network of sequential learning areas and new terrain park designs. The learning areas will be largely flat zones at base areas that will use gently rolling snow to help skiers more easily learn how to edge and glide on snow. A series of progressively more challenging zones will guide visitors onto the ski area and ultimately lead to the most innovative terrain parks in the resort industry.
“We believe the reimagined and more intuitive than ever ski-and-ride experience offered at Woodward Mountain Parks will empower guests of all ages and abilities with next-gen learning and fun,” Powdr’s co-president Wade Martin said in an email describing the plan to bring his company’s successful Woodward action-sports training experience to its ski resorts.
Powdr has enlisted Olympians Danny Davis and Red Gerard, two of snowboarding’s most influential athletes, in its effort to meld the Woodward experience with the resort skiing experience.
Woodward has been around for nearly 50 years, spreading from its roots in gymnastic-camps in Pennsylvania in the 1970s to 13 winter and summer action-sports destinations where young and old alike can hone high-flying skills.
The 19,400-square-foot Woodward Barn in Copper is one of the nation’s top training facilities for mountain sports, using the mountain’s array of parks and zones as wintertime testing grounds for skills learned in the facility’s ramps, trampolines and foam pits. Olympians including Summit County’s Gerard, Chris Corning and Kyle Mack all trained at Woodward Copper.
Powdr’s Woodward venues are where those young, high-flying Olympic athletes — park and pipe skiers and snowboarders, and next year in Tokyo’s Summer Games, park and street skateboarders as well as freestyle BMX athletes — often build their skills.
And Powdr’s new Woodward-for-everyone plan will open that path to all with a walk-to-run learning strategy that could upend decades of ski teaching techniques.
The Woodward Mountain Parks approach will begin with Woodward Start Parks, where a series of small features on flat terrain — designed to help first-timers control their speed — will help those new skiers progress to the next level. The strategy follows the game-changing notion of terrain-based learning, where skiers use undulations in flat snow to get just enough speed to feel edges and bases grip and slide without the fear of getting too much speed.
After skiers graduate through the first two phases of Woodward Progression Parks, they are prepared to explore other parts of the mountain as well as phase three, which offers entry-level, extra-small freestyle terrain.
Where many terrain parks mingle entry-level experiences with expert-only features, the new Woodward Mountain Parks strategy is designed to allow skiers develop basic, yet essential, skills before venturing into the parks where the experts play. Eldora’s Woodward Mountain Park will focus on skill development in its Start Park and offer a collection of freestyle terrain progressing from small to large.
While the Woodward Start and Progression parks will help skiers develop skills for anywhere on the mountain, the new Family Cross, Peace Park and Red’s Backyard zones will help skiers hone more specialized skills in terrain parks.
Peace Park is a creation of the ever-innovative Davis, who created the annual Peace Park rally in 2011, a pros-only event with new concepts in freestyle park design. Powdr and Davis brought that concept to the masses in February at Boreal in California and Killington in Vermont, with features that focus on creativity and flow. This year, the Peace Park expands to Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, the new Woodward Park City complex and Copper, where Red’s Backyard will also debut.
Gerard, who won slopestyle gold in South Korea’s 2018 Olympics, lives in Silverthorne, where his family’s backyard is a legendary playground for some of the world’s top snowboarders. With a homemade surface lift and a variety of jibs, rails, jumps and hits, Gerard and his crew developed skills that pushed snowboarding’s boundaries and helped groom the teen-phenom’s path to Olympic glory.
The backyard-style ski-area parks — with a DIY feel and users lapping through the garden of slippery rails and boxes — will feed both intermediate and expert demands, with introductory steps for those just learning to how to slide on steel and more advanced and creative options for jibbing masters. Red’s Backyard will be at Copper, Killington and the new Woodward Park City this winter.
Woodward Park City, which marks Powdr’s return to skiing and snowboarding in Park City after it sold its flagship Park City ski area to Vail Resorts in 2014 following a missed lease renewal, will open this year as Utah ramps up a bid to host its second Winter Olympics in 2026.
The complex will be the nation’s first all-in-one action sports ski resort — separate from Park City ski area — with lift-accessed skiing and tubing in the winter and biking and skating in the summer.
The indoor-outdoor facility at Powdr’s former Gorgoza tubing hill, near the Park City ski area and a few miles from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence training center, will have trampolines, foam pits, skate parks, ramps and training facilities for athletes in 10 different disciplines, including the Olympic sports of freeskiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, skateboarding and BMX.
Powdr last year hired Chris Gunnarson to head the company’s youth development program. Gunnarson and his wife, Genevieve, who was hired as vice-president of Woodward’s brand and marketing, co-owned the snow-sculpting Snow Park Technologies for 20 years, creating some of the world’s top terrain parks and competition courses for the X Games, Burton U.S. Open and Dew Tour.
In a statement, Gunnarson said both Davis and Gerard share Powdr’s “deep commitment to inspiring the next generation.”
“The Woodward Mountain Park experiences we are creating will be unlike anything else and will provide engaging, interconnected building blocks for guests to progress, learn, play and grow,” Gunnarson wrote.