AlpineZone Challenge 2006 – Chris Sullivan of Ski Sundown

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Chris Sullivan, Mountain Operations Manager at Ski Sundown in New Hartford, Connecticut, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 5/15/2006:

Greg: Let’s talk moguls! I would like to first applaud you guys for the mogul run set up on Nor’easter this season. I know for a fact that several AlpineZone Members visited Sundown specifically to ski this run. Despite Sundown being a feeder hill that focuses on learning, I feel offering a consistent expert mogul run can definitely attract local advanced skiers who are looking for a challenge close to home. A well done bump run is also useful for teaching upper intermediate skiers that want to take their skiing to the next level. I feel in many ways you accomplished this on Nor’easter this season. However, there is room for improvement. Specifically, I think there are better trail options for a seeded bump run. I realize the number of routes down the mountain is limited, but the obvious choice is Gunbarrel. I also understand that Gunny is often used for races and race practice, but my impression is it’s wide enough to offer a top to bottom seeded bump run on skier’s right while leaving perhaps 2/3 of the trail on skier’s left groomed for races and cruising. This also provides a way for those over their heads to bail out of the bumps. This would allow Gunbarrel to return to its former claim-to-fame as CT’s best mogul run (read: marketing value). The next logical choice would be Temptor (a “double-black”). While not as steep and long as Gunbarrel, it’s a better choice than lower Nor’easter (a relatively short blue). As I understand it, the reason for seeding bumps on Nor’easter was so Ski School could utilize it in intermediate lessons to teach mogul skiing and Temptor’s double-black status was thought to be too intimidating. I think this can be overcome by allowing a single groomer pass on one side of a bump run on Temptor. This will provide an escape route as well as letting those who are unsure scope the run before committing. Sorry for wordy comments/questions, but this is something I’m truly passionate about. As an aspiring recreational bump skier, I found having a good bump run so close to home extremely helpful for letting me practice and improve. What are your thoughts on these ideas/suggestions?

You’ve appeased the park rats with a pretty impressive terrain park on Stinger, now let’s give the bumpers an awesome run! While Nor’easter this season was ‘good’, I think you guys have the talent and terrain to offer a bump run that is truly ‘great’ next year. I’m sure we can get a group together to help ski it in.

Chris Sullivan: We chose Nor Easter as our bump run for a number of reasons.

  1. Nor Easter has the most consistent Surface due to its north face and tall evergreens. This means less of thaw- freeze impact on the snow. Also, once a deep base is formed and the bumps are in Nor Easter requires less snowmaking than trails that get a lot of sun. Snowmaking piles in the middle of a bump run aren’t that cool.
  2. Temptor has a nice pitch for bumps, however we facilitate race practice areas for about a dozen prep schools and Temptor is key to that arrangement.
  3. Gunbarrel, both left and right are also reserved for race practice. Gunbarrel being fully groomed has encouraged more use. This cuts down the traffic on Exhibition. Most of all, in seasons past Gunbarrel had bumps and skiers would complain almost daily about the conditions (windblown, ice, no clear lines, oddly shaped, not so smart skiers entering from the groomed side with out looking uphill, and more).

The response to Nor Easter this year was very positive. We have never had better bumps. Next year we plan to seed them from the sundeck down with a bail out to the skiers left uphill of the Temptor split. We also plan to intermittently seed a narrow run on the skier’s right of Exhibition )most likely not during X-mas week, MLK, or Feb. vacation).

Tin Woodsman: I returned to Sundown this year for the first time in over a decade. While I was happy to see an impressive terrain park, it was disappointing that it took over what is arguably the best run at Sundown – Stinger. Are there any plans to move the park to Nor’easter or Canyon Run, or does the length and “look at me” value of the Stinger location make that untenable?

Chris Sullivan: As the trails are set up currently at Ski Sundown, Stinger is our best option. A brief history of Terrain park placement at Ski Sundown includes, 3 years on Temptor, 2 years on Canyon run, 1 year on Gunbarrel, 1 year on Stinger. The other trails we’ve tried were not as good of a fit as Stinger for various reasons. The reasons Stinger is a good fit are.

  1. For the past 10 years Ski Sundown has had a Big Air jump on the skiers left of Exhibition. The incloser for that feature took up just about all of Exhibition downhill of Stinger (point being, half the park has been there a long time). When the park was on Canyon Run and Temptor skier and riders would cut across the top of Exhibition to finish their runs at the Big Air. This created traffic for those exiting Temptor and Stinger. So, connecting the Terrain Park to the existing Big Air area gave us the best flow and consolidation for all of our terrain features on the main hill.
  2. Stinger is visible from the base and the lift. This makes it unlikely that anyone would go down Stinger and be taken by surprise.
  3. Stinger’s high visibility also gives our staff a better awareness of the happenings in the park.
  4. The Stinger park can be split to allow use by the public during competitions and maintenance.

That being said I do not ride terrain features much and wish to have Stinger back as well. I think the answer is not to move the park to an existing trail, but to cut a new one for it.

bvibert: My question has to do with your website. I see that you now have a forum setup for the terrain park guys, why not add category for the rest of the mountain? It might be a good way to get feed-back on the rest of the mountain and generate some interest.

Chris Sullivan: All of our department heads are available thru e-mail or voice mail. We consider all suggestions. The terrain forum is open for anyone who has a burning desire.

Tin Woodsman: Are there any plans for terrain expansion, say to skiers’ left of Gunbarrel or between Gunbarrel and Stinger? I ask because with Stinger now occupied by the terrain park, a full one-third of your expert terrain is off limits to those skiers who simply want to ski.

Chris Sullivan: YES. Plans are in the works.

Greg: Do you ever allow skiing under Lift One (the yellow triple)? If there’s enough natural snow, it seems like that could be skiable, although some of the chairs get pretty low in spots. Have you ever thought of grading that so there is enough clearance to open it as an official trail? I suppose the lack of natural snow most years limits making this worth it and you can’t really install snowmaking on such a narrow liftline. Again, a new trail that that winds between and partially follows the two triple liftlines could be cool though.

Chris Sullivan: We do not open the lift line to skiing. Mostly because the chair height is too close to the ground. When installing a chair lift, one of the most important things to consider is vulnerability to the wind. By keeping the chairs close to the ground we have been able to operate thru some of the best (what normal people call worst) snow storms to hit CT due to the stability of the chairs.

bvibert: My last question has nothing to do with skiing. I’ve seen in the terrain forum that there is some interest in opening up Sundown in the Summer for mountain biking. How serious of an idea is that? Sounds like a pretty big undertaking, but I think it would be worth it. Are there any other ideas for off-season activities there?

Chris Sullivan: Ski Sundown has been doing research on the prospect of mountain biking for the past few months. It is a subject that has our serious interest. If we go in that direction it would be with the same attitude we approached the terrain park (being second best is not good enough).

Greg: Can you give us a history on “The Horn”, the traverse trail that runs between Stinger and Gunbarrel under the lifts. Do you ever open it anymore?

Chris Sullivan: The Horn exist because when the ski area first opened the horn was the only access to Gunbarrel. The top of Gunbarrel as we see it today was not there. Now, it creates an unnecessary intersection and the newer lifts are lower than the older ones.

2knees: A patroller told me about a short tree area behind the sundeck. Any plans to put that on the map?

Chris Sullivan: No plans to put that on the map (bad patroller, bad bad bad patroller).

Greg: Probably by the time you get to these questions the April Freestyle Camp that’s going on this week will be over. How did it go? Did you receive a good turnout? Is it something you plan to continue? How seriously would you consider a mogul camp?

Chris Sullivan: Ski Sundown’s April freestyle camp was awesome. We will do it again. To prepare for that camp we experimented after the 2004-2005 season to see if we could get the snow to hold out till late April on Sensation. At the end of the upcoming season we will see what we can do on Nor Easter and make a judgment from there.

Greg: The Stinger Terrain Park was indeed impressive this season. What feedback did you receive on it? Were most people glad it was moved off of Gunbarrel and put on Stinger? Personally, I think Stinger is one of the mountain’s best trails with a good balance of pitch and character. As a non-freestyle skier, the park there this season was somewhat of a disappointment. I understand it’s a big draw, but perhaps as Tin Woodman points out, there is a better location for it? Canyon Run is also a great run, but I would bet most people would be willing to sacrifice that to get Stinger back.

Chris Sullivan: 
Yes, I think a lot of folks were happy to have Gunbarrel back. As for Stinger, it’s the best fit. This past season both Gunbarrel and Stinger saw an increase in skier traffic. This was one of our goals when we considered park and bump placement.

In the past few years Ski Sundown has made an effort to offer something for everyone, upgraded race facility, dedicated bump trail, improved teaching terrain, progressive freestyle terrain, and more. It is important for those of us that don’t frequent the terrain park to realize freestyle skiing and riding are the most popular and growing aspects of our sport today.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: width=