The Leysin snowpark holds a special place in Swiss history as one of the most progressive parks around. It hasn’t always been easy over the past thirty years, but these days it’s looking better than ever. We caught up with the shape team to learn some history and find out what it takes to pull off a great park in the middle of pandemic.
Hey Ben, can you please introduce yourself for anyone that doesn’t know you?
Hi, I’m Benjamin Ravanel, a snowpark shaper, cat driver and the founder of Ravach Parks. I’ve been shaping snowparks for more than ten years around the world and I’m specialized in halfpipe shaping. I worked for several years in French resorts like Tignes, Les 2 Alpes, Val Thorens and I also built the halfpipe for the three European editions of the X-Games.
I live in Les Diablerets with my wife and my two kids, and with my crew, I am in charge of building and maintaining the snowparks in Villars, Les Diablerets and of course Leysin.
I guess this has been a complicated year for everyone. How’s the season been going in Leysin so far ?
Yeah this season was a strange one with a lot of uncertainties at the beginning. The resort had to work hard and very quickly at the beginning of the season to put in place the necessary protection plans for the opening, the catering on the resort was really uncertain and the calendar of events changed almost weekly with the change in restrictions. But apart from this, we were able to open, build a superb park and even host a round of the Euro Cup events, so we can’t complain.
The attendance in terms of daily skiers is slightly below normal for the ski resort but we have had a very high attendance in the park… and it’s not over yet! We are closing on the 11th of April so we are expecting a lot of people at the end of the season.
Full send on the new hip.
I’ve heard stories of a few resorts closing their parks to try to cut costs in these difficult times. Why do you think it’s important for our local resorts to keep investing in their snow parks?
I can’t speak for all the resorts as they are all different, but here in Leysin, the resorts have seen that parks attract a lot of people and are an advantage for them. These zones offer play areas that are very popular with customers (of all ages) and allow them to diversify the offer proposed on the ski area.
The popularity of freeskiing and freestyle snowboarding has exploded in Switzerland over the last few years and more and more young people are taking up these sports. The national mainstream media is talking about it almost every week due to the excellent results of the Swiss athletes. All of which is perhaps pushing the resorts to take this sport into account and to set up good quality snowparks.
Afterwards, resorts such as Leysin have chosen to put a lot of effort and importance into these areas in order to offer very high quality infrastructures and this comes from a real global strategy from the destination. I think the choice is good because when you see the number of kids and young people who come here to have fun and progress in the park, it confirms that the strategy in place works.
Can you share some of the history behind the Leysin Park ?
Leysin has more than 30 years of freestyle history. We’ve gone from being a precursor in the sport (it was one of the first parks in Europe in the 90’s), to being forgotten and now rising from the ashes. Leysin was even one of the only European resorts to accept snowboarders on its domain in the 90’s when most other resorts banned snowboarders from using their facilities.
Officially, Leysin Park held its first snowboard competition, called the Champs Open, in 1992. It was the beginning of modern freestyle competitions in Europe and the reign of Terje Haakonsen. No one will ever forget his mythical Haakon Flip that kept the massive crowd on the deck of the pipe thrilled for years to come.
But in 2015, the resort chose to invest less in freestyle sports. It was the end of the Nescafé Champs and the end of the « International » quality snowpark here in Leysin. The park remained, but at a « regional level quality ». The halfpipe was not shaped anymore, but the park remained good for local riders and still hosted some regional events.
In 2017, the resort decided to reinvest massively in the park, and in freestyle sports in general, in order to regain its place of importance in the freestyle scene. They wanted to offer one of the best parks in Europe, but also be able to host international events each year, such as the Youth Olympic Games in 2020, the World Junior Halfpipe Championships in 2019 or a FIS Slopestyle & Halfpipe European Cup in 2021.
A lot of summer earthwork was undertaken in 2018 to facilitate the construction of the snowpark in winter. We implemented a large snowmaking plan to produce the snow needed at the beginning of the season and purchased three dedicated snowpark machines. My crew from Ravach Parks got hired on bringing more shapers and machinists to the team and the park has been excellent since then.
I guess the Youth Olympics were a pretty big thing for you guys last season. How did that go?
The Youth Olympic Games were indeed an extraordinary event for us last season. It was a real challenge for us as shapers because we had to put out an international competition park very early in the season without knowing if the snow would allow it. This was confirmed at the beginning of the season but we had little precipitation and high temperatures preventing us from producing sufficient snow, so we were very tense. We had to look for snow on the whole mountain around the park, especially on the face above the snowpark. It was a huge job and very risky for the snowcat drivers who were working in very steep and totally overhanging areas.
But it was worth it because we were able to get the lines done on time and then everything went like clockwork. The work done by the local organizing committee was also remarkable. This committee, mainly made up of young people from Leysin who are passionate about freeskiing and snowboarding, worked for two years with the collaboration of the whole village to prepare, set up and finally run perfectly this magnificent event.
What were some of the highlights?
All in all, when I think back, all the memories are highlights for me. But two in particular stand out for me. The first was the day of the competitions when more than 2000 spectators were on the site, around the modules, spread all over the mountain, sitting in the snow having a picnic, watching the finals and having a good time. It was wonderful to see so many people on the site of Chaux-de-Mont.
The second was, of course, the official medal ceremony at the bottom of the snowpark. On the last day, Leysin was lucky enough to be the only site where an Olympic medal ceremony with national anthems, etc. was held, as everything was normally done in Lausanne. What a beautiful memory to see this moment at the bottom of the slopestyle that we had built, at the foot of the Tour D’Aï. It was really unique!
What’s the shaping philosophy for you guys these days? Would you say that the park is more focused on progression or fun?
Our philosophy is quite simple. We want to build a high quality snowpark that everybody can enjoy and progress on It. Whether you are a top athlete or a first timer, you will have some features that suit your level here in Leysin. We try to have a park that is very progressive in terms of « Level gaps » between the different lines, especially with the kicker lines.
Our second goal is to try to have an evolving park during the season. So we change the lines and the setup each month in order to keep originality and fun in the different zones. We also try to offer a competition oriented set up (usually in Slopestyle) during one or two months of the season in order to help teams train during the winter.
Who are your favorite local skiers to watch riding your park?
The local scene is pretty big here, a lot of young and less young riders are riding the park each week-end. Be sure to keep an eye out for Albie Bigler. He’s a young local skier with a lot of really solid and original style. He’s buttering everywhere and lapping the park non-stop with his crew doing trains the whole day. It’s so fun to watch.
Also, there is a young girl (10-11 years) from the freestyle club of Leysin who’s already throwing 720s on the large kickers, so maybe she will become the first « local » star in the future.
Are there any new features this season that you’re excited about?
We don’t really have « one » specific feature that we are excited about, but it’s more the whole park that we are hyped on. With four kickers lines (S, M, L and XL), a superpipe, the « shred zone » and the rail garden at the bottom, the park is quite long and the lap is well worth it.
But lately we built a gigantic hip at the bottom of the pipe with the last snowfall and made improvements on the big kicker line. Now we have five kickers in a row. The « shred » zone is also quite nice with some banked turns, transitions and transfers everywhere. The creative options are infinite there.
Who’s in the shaper crew this year?
The crew is :
– Christophe Destarac, Main Hand Shaper
– Indy Sanders, Hand shaper
– Jules Boissard, Hand Shaper & Machinist
– J-Pix, Machinist
– Julie Basset, Machinist
And me, also here as a machinist and the park manager, though I’m mainly taking care of the halfpipe.
Any funny stories to share about those guys?
One of the most memorable stories was one from the Young Olympics Games. One morning, after 4 days of sunny weather, a huge storm rolled in. We arrived at the park at 6:00am to clear the 50cm of snow on the Slopestyle and in the halfpipe. The task was gigantic and the first training was at 8:45 am that day.
What a nice surprise when we saw 40 soldiers from the Swiss Army up there with the shovels ready to help us. The organizer managed to send an entire military company up there to help us clear the snow. Several of those guys actually had no idea how to ski and ended up getting injured. But without those guys, we could never have opened the course on time that day. So thanks Swiss Army for helping us maintain our park 😉
Thanks for your time Ben! Anything else that you’d like to add?
Thanks to you for this interview. Nothing much except that we are happy to work in a resort that allows us to create what we want in such a beautiful spot. We can only invite you to come and ride the park before the end of the season and we are already looking forward to next year!
Don’t forget… last call for the Leysin Park is on Sunday, the 11th of April. See you there!