May 8, 2013
They say it takes faith to move a mountain. Maybe faith is part of it, but Snow Park Technologies could make a good argument that it all comes down to the right equipment and the right crew.
Few people know just how much work goes into pushing snow.
Snow Park Technologies, or SPT, sends its crew into acres of exposed and icy terrain. The average office temperature is below freezing, and the average workday is 24 hours. Avalanches, severe storms, heavy machinery and big personalities all come with the territory.
Moving mountains is no easy task, but for SPT it's also a labor of love.
"When you're watching a phenomenal athlete, who is also your friend, win a gold medal out there competing on one of the courses you built, that's amazing. Just like it's amazing when you watch a 4- or 5-year-old kid go through one of the little parks we built and they are now hooked for life," SPT owner Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson said.
Mountain Movers is a new adrenaline-packed documentary series that follows Gunnarson and SPT through a construction season as they transform metal, wood and snow into jaw-dropping features at the biggest snow competitions in the world. The first episode, "Stairway to Hell," will air May 9 at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.
SPT is, essentially, the godfather of park building. From the average terrain park to the most elaborate pro competition, these guys wrote the book on snow pushing.
In the 14 years since SPT was born, Gunnarson and his crew have designed and built more than 250 competition courses, including all of the Winter X Games in the United States and Europe, the Burton U.S. Open and the Winter Dew Tour. They also have a hand in most of the terrain parks and competition setups in the Tahoe Basin — Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Northstar, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
Gunnarson formed the company back in 1999 while he was working at Snow Summit in Southern California. He will say it was just being in the right place at the right time, which was SoCal during the board-sport explosion, but anyone who knows Gunnarson will say SPT's success runs deeper than that. Gunnarson is the type of guy who can move mountains.
"I have always been one to firmly believe in progression, innovation and incredible experiences, and firmly despise complacency," Gunnarson said.
"I'm typically kind of a pit bull when it comes to seeing stuff through."
Which is how Mountain Movers got started.
Gunnarson doesn't watch much reality TV, but it occurred to him that a SPT season would be worth watching. He ran the idea by Wasserman Media, which represents the athletes, and Good Clean Fun, a reality TV production company, and everyone was in.
"So we hatched a plan and went out and found interest from the National Geographic Channel and next thing you know we were in production, making a TV show," Gunnarson.
Well, maybe it wasn't that simple, but neither is park building. And now, almost four years after the idea was hatched, the public is about to find out.
"There were a lot of different times when it looked like this whole thing wasn't going to happen," Gunnarson said.
Some days were better. Some were worse, like when a big wall ride SPT was building at the U.S. Open nearly collapsed on one of the camera guys.
"That was an eye opener for the producers," Gunnarson said. "The dangers will come through on this show. We're dealing with heavy machinery, welding and all kinds of precarious situations, day and night in all varying weather conditions.
"The space we work in is a cold, snowy region on the side of the hill with acres and acres of places to be, so I think it was really challenging."
Episodes will air Thursdays with each episode following a SPT project from start to finish.
"I've got a ton of love for working and playing in the snow," Gunnarson said, "and to try and tell a story that may encourage other people to do the same makes me feel good I guess."
"Stairway to Hell"
Thursday, May 9, at 8 p.m.
SPT will be designing the halfpipe and slope-style courses for this premiere event of the winter season. Their main focus will be creating a massive, Mountain Dew signature staircase and rail feature that will contain the biggest wall they've ever built. Undoubtedly, with a feature of this size, problems arise. Because of the feature's size and weight, it's going to be extremely expensive to ship. They must come up with a new design. "Gunny" decides to have Aaron Dettling, his carpenter, build the stairs on the mountain, out of wood. This is the first time that Aaron has ever had to build a complete staircase on snow, leaving the window open for complete disaster, whether it is manmade or caused by Mother Nature. This build will be a challenge for everyone. Not only will they have to push to build a course in an unusual fashion, but they also will have to contend with equipment failures, weather delays and the sheer size of the wall and rail features.
Thursday, May 16, at 8 p.m.
SPT's next major project: an Olympic training camp for elite Red Bull athletes. While warm temperatures make it a high-risk project, "Gunny" is determined to get the job done, sending SPT's "Jr. Meteorologist" Frank Wells to lead the charge. But when Wells and lead snowcat operator Corley Howard arrive at Sun Valley, they are shocked by the lack of snow on the ground, and forced to redesign the course before Red Bull pulls the plug. Howard and Wells hit the ground running and make some serious progress pushing snow, until Howard faces a potentially fatal accident with his machinery.
Narrowly escaping a disaster, he continues to build the massive 65-foot jump. But just as the temperatures drop and the SPT crew finally make headway with the jump, Mother Nature strikes again, sending an unprecedented rainstorm on a course to destroy their progress. Already behind schedule, the SPT crew must wait out the bad weather before they can get back on the snow.
Thursday, May 23, at 8 p.m.
It's time for SPT's most stressful, most anticipated event of the year: the ESPN X Games in Aspen, Colo. As the original course designer for all 17 years of the ESPN Winter X Games, "Gunny" still feels the pressure to build the biggest, most intense courses the industry has ever seen. Gunny has passed the torch to his young protégé Chris Castaneda to lead the crew from SPT, who will have to manage the diverse SPT personalities of veterans Mike Binnell and Aaron Dettling, as well as rookie Landon Taylor. Extremely cold weather, malfunctioning equipment and tight deadlines quickly pile on to the intensity and difficulty of this worldwide televised live event. With the highest-caliber athletes waiting and the whole planet watching, SPT will have its work cut out.
National Geographic contributed to this report.