The Vans Penken Park Mayrhofen will always be synonymous with the European freestyle scene. Its name stands for events like the Groms Open, the Mayrhofen Freeski Open, the Vans Hi-Standard and the new Zillertal Välley Rälley. With all these highlights, a park like this also means something else: a lot of work! With a multitude of people involved with the running of the park from a variety of different countries, it was time to take a trip backstage to meet them.
The Vans Penken Park Mayrhofen is one of the homes of freestyle in Europe; it’s the myriad of features and obstacles dotted across the slopes that makes it the ski and snowboard playground that it is for some of the best riders in the world, but they’re proud that they manage to balance having a park that’s suitable for first time riders as well. The planning starts long before the first snow has started falling and doesn’t stop until long after the last snow has melted – in actual fact, it’s a 365 day a year job for the Mayrhofen Bergbahnen AG Marketing Team, but ironically, it’s the summer that marks their busiest time of the year. The six-man team works over the summer months, communicating with different event organisers and sponsors to ensure that by the time the first signs of autumn approach, they’ve already got the concepts finalised and the park plan in the final stages for the winter.
Whilst most people are sunning themselves on sunnier shores, the Mayrhofen Bergbahnen work alongside the snowpark specialists QParks to create and design the park for the coming winter. It’s down to them to make sure the emphasis is centered on creativity and innovation each year. Obstacles are bought, pencils are snapped and new areas created to make sure that the park is progressing with the level of riding. “This season we decided to create a fun-jib-area in place of the old halfpipe” said Micheal Hemmer, marketing and project coordinator from the Mayrhofen Bergbahnen, “We found it wasn’t being used by visitors to the park anymore, so we decided to get creative with some new obstacles and add them into the walls of the pipe to create a park area that we hope everyone will use”.
The obstacles for the Vans Penken Park come in all shapes and sizes, and over the winter, they get a beating from the thousands of riders that slide, stomp or stack on them. It falls to the QParks team to nurse them back to health over the summer and give them a lick of paint before being put out to pasture again. The German company Schneestern who manufactures the features, ensure each rail, box or obstacle meets European safety standards before shipping them out.
Once the plans are fixed, the obstacles refurbished and the events marked on the calendar, it’s time for Manuel Eder, who has stepped up to the plate as Park Designer for the first time and Flo Brandtner, the co-park designer and bully driver, to come into the equation. It’s up to them and their 11-person shape crew to bring the plans to life.
“The final plan comes from the QParks team in November” said Mani, “As soon as the first snow falls, we’re up the mountain assessing the conditions and preparing the features. Since last two years, we’ve been able to store the rails in a purpose built warehouse next to the park which is perched on the Horberg mountain, which makes them much easier to transport than before, when they were left outside all summer. There’s also a crane built into the warehouse which means it’s a lot quicker than moving the boxes by hand which can weigh up to 600kg! The warehouse boasts three huge doors so that the features can be easily transported by the bully which also speeds things up a lot” he continued.
But before any features can take their new residence in the park, there has to be enough snow. Whilst Mother Nature provides the best snow, it’s down to Flo Brandtner to create what nature can’t with his 12 state of the art artificial snow cannons. “The park needs about 120,000m3 of snow per season!” he remarked.
Once there is enough snow to start building, it’s down to the hand shapers like Vladislav Beer and the rest of the crew to begin their work lining the rails up, digging them in and building the takeoffs before visitors can ride them. He told us that it’s no easy task with each feature taking from an hour to an hour and a half to sculpt; rumor has it that they built the entire kids area that hosts 10 features, in only one day this season! These boys and girls build fast!
It’s during this stage that Flo and Mani really show the vast amounts of experience that they’ve learnt over years of construction. They both see how the lines and the flow change with each new obstacle added and it’s up to them to make sure it’s as organic and smooth as possible. Mani explains it in his typical modest fashion “My goal each year is to build the Vans Penken Park better than it has ever been. It’s perfection down to the last detail and next year, even better, because to me final perfection doesn’t exist”.
It’s a recipe that seems to work though, with only minor tweaks being made each season. One of the crowning jewels in the Vans Penken Park’s crown is the triple pro-line kicker section that’s shaped to perfection with the take offs being angles at 37, 38 and 37 degrees respectively to make sure riders avoid those patella crunching slams. The crews work in collaboration with the riders, so that changes can be made to the park to allow progression. For example, young British ripper Jamie Nicholls, asked if the third kicker could be made bigger to try to land triple corks – by working alongside Jamie, the crew delivered a kicker tailor made for his triple training needs.
Ross Needham works as the Multi-Media Shaper at the park and it falls to him to engage the community with updates and photos on the Vans Penken Park Facebook page. To paraphrase a famous saying into ‘If a feature is built and nobody is there to ride it, is it still a feature?’ comes to mind and therefore it falls to Ross to make sure that the updates from the park keep coming thick and fast to the public.
Given the sheer amount man hours and machinery that goes into a mega project like the Vans Penken Park, it’s essential to each cog in the proverbial machine to run smoothly. Weekly meetings between the different departments ensure that resources are distributed where they’re needed, to keep all the pistons firing. To be more specific, there are 54 pistons that make up the 9 Pisten Bullys that are responsible for this part of the Horberg alone. 16-hour days are not rare for bully driver Flo who can only begin his work once the lifts have stopped running at 16:00 each day, and must coordinate between himself and the rest of the fleet to groom and prepare the park for the next day.
This process happens everyday from December to April high in Zillertal valley and it’s no easy task to keep the complex Mayrhofen machine running but it’s a rewarding one for those involved. You can get a further glimpse into the average day at the Vans Penken Park Mayrhofen from the behind-the-scenes clip and photo gallery. So next time you’re lapping the park, remember that the line you’re about to drop into takes more than just you to stomp.