Some ski resorts are turning into junkyards — and snowboarders couldn't be happier.
Satellite dishes, propane tanks, empty oil drums and even a Chevy Impala are popping up in terrain parks across the country. It's a new form of recycling and is adding back some edge to what has become a mainstream sport.
Snowboarding started as a rebellious activity. Riding rails, pipes and picnic benches was a way to break out of the norm. Today, those features have become standard. So to add some uniqueness and push the sport to a new level, resorts have turned to rummaging through junk piles. The recycled objects are placed on the slopes as challenges for snowboarding jumps, slides and other maneuvers.
"We've had the same stuff going on for years and years. Now they are just trying to get crazy with it," said Lakota Sage, a 21-year-old professional snowboarder at Colorado's Echo Mountain.
Sage is out on the mountain almost daily and loves the new features, including a 1960s-era trail-grooming machine called a snowcat. It was found in the woods on the resort with bullet holes from locals who used it for target practice and now sits by a railing on the course.
"It helps push the athletes a little more because it's more intimidating. If you do fall off the railing, you're going to nail the snowcat," he said.
This winter, boarders at Sol Vista Basin at Granby Ranch in Colorado will find a six-foot tall satellite dish poached from a stranger taking it to the dump. Other mountains have taken old chairlift towers, tractor tires, snowmaking pipes, logs and concrete barriers and given them a second life on the mountain. There's a fiberglass horse at Colorado's Winter Park, and California's Northstar has incorporated an old gondola cabin in its terrain park.
"It feels pretty unique to hit something that I normally ride up in," said Mike Schipani, manager of Northstar's terrain park.
The new effort also keeps junk out of the landfill and saves ski resorts some cash. Schipani said he spends about $1,800 for each 20-foot-long piece of steel he puts on the mountain.
Many amateur boarders are creating videos in hopes of pushing themselves into a professional career. The used cars, satellite dishes and other objects help them stand out.
"Without innovation, I think our sport would become pretty stagnant," Schipani said.
The idea of putting recycled items on the mountain started about five years ago but really picked up last season, according to Jason George, the terrain park manager at Colorado's Copper Mountain.
"It's green and we like to recycle," he said.
Propane tanks are popular but a bit tricky. Before a welder can start to repurpose them, the tanks have to be filled with water, pushing out any leftover combustible gas.
The appeal of these obstacles is that they are different. As more and more parks add satellite dishes and cars, mountain workers are just going to have to work harder to find that new, unique item to keep on attracting boarders. George knows that and is already hard at work.
"I'm rummaging through all the old boneyards to see what I can come up with. I'm quite the rummager," he said. "Anything we can find, that kids can slide, we'll use."