Rail jams hit area slopes
Tyler May of Holly handplants the 1,000-gallon tank at the 2011 Manna Food Project Rail Jam at Nub's Nob in Harbor Springs. (Courtesy photo/John Curtis)
During the last week of December, Boyne Mountain hosted a rail jam to which more than a hundred spectators showed up to watch. Dan Hercott, Boyne Resorts events professional, said it can be a fun respite for those skiing for pleasure at the resort to watch the rail jams and check out the events' sponsors.
At Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, the terrain park is located near the base lodge and bar, so visitors will often sit there to watch. Hercott said there is always upbeat music and an announcer.
"We have a lot of fun with them," he noted, adding that many of the participants are friends and cheer one another other on.
The age range of participants is anywhere from 7 to about 30 years old.
There is a set amount of time in which the participants will go down a small portion of the terrain park and perform tricks on a box or rail. They hike or ride a tow rope back up and go again, completing as many tricks as possible in the allotted time.
Several judges watch the competitors and determine finalists or a winner. The judges are usually those who have grown up skiing and snowboarding and have most likely competed and done well in the sport.
There are prizes or "swag" for the best in several categories, and also for completing certain tricks or challenges. The events are almost always sponsored by one or several outdoor gear, ski or snowboard companies, which provide prizes. All of the events at Boyne resorts this year are sponsored by The North Face as well as other companies for specific events.
Hercott said all who are able to ride a box or rail are invited to compete, and the environment is encouraging and fun for beginners.
"The more tricks you are able to do, the more prizes you win," he said.
John Curtis, a terrain park designer and promoter at Nub's Nob in Harbor Springs, said the ski area has set aside a separate area of the terrain park solely for rail jams. They've improved the area, called Nub's Nob Rail Yard, this year, making it possible to keep the entire hill open during jams, according to Curtis.
Competitors take 40-second laps in the yard, up a tow rope, then down the obstacles.
"It's about having fun with friends and sharing the experience," explained Curtis.
Jim Beam, 14, of Indian River, agrees. He's been snowboarding for five years and this is his second year competing in rail jam competitions.
Jim and most of the other youths participating in Nub's Nob's "Gnar Year's Eve" rail jam on Dec. 31 had just finished up a three-day camp at the hill where they learned new skills and made friends.
"I like how chill they are," said Jim. "It's not competitive; you can just come out and have fun."
Curtis said rail jams originate from skateboarding and mimic the same relaxed contest environment that skateboarders have used for several decades.
Genesis Peters, a pro patroller at Nub's Nob, said kids can build skills at the contests in a whole new way.
"It's about finding ways to get kids motivated, to grow the sport and help them improve to the point where they're competing on a more formal level."