Snowboarding and Innsbruck go together like salt and pepper. As you’d expect for a place that is considered ‘the Birthplace of snowboarding in Europe’, their “Skyline Park” is pretty awesome. Terrain park shaper Bjarni Thor Valdimarsson, an Iceland native now living in Tirol, gives us an insight into what goes on behind the scenes.
It’s a cold winter’s day in Tirol’s capital Innsbruck. At 6:00pm, the streets of town are filled with commuters rushing to the train station. High above town at Nordkette Ski Resort, master terrain park shaper Bjarni Thor Valdimarsson and his crew are working under the shroud of darkness to create the lines that launch snowboarders and freeskiers to superstardom, or something like it. Each night the snowcat drivers work long hours, starting before sunrise and finishing after sunset to craft the most creative features at “Skyline Park”, located 1,900 meters above sea level on Seegrube Mountain. It’s the only terrain park in the world that can easily be reached within a 20-minute gondola ride from downtown. No park in the world can legitimately call itself a city snow park the way the Nordkette Skyline Park can.
Home to kickers, rails and boxes, Skyline Park brings the scene up here. However, behind every terrain park is a crew of park pushers, often skilled riders themselves, who work hard to sculpt, groom and maintain features that have become the envy of snowboarding and freeskiing. Bjarni Thor Valdimarsson, Skyline’s terrain park grooming supervisor, is one of these shapers. “This job is not high paying and it’s far from being relaxed,” declares the Iceland native who resembles a Viking.
Bjarni grew up in Iceland before his love of snowboarding caused him to migrate south to Tirol about two decades ago. He recalls the early days of snowboarding when Innsbruck was the hotbed of a budding cultural phenomenon. In the 1990s and 2000s, Innsbruck was considered the capital of the snowboarding community, with world renowned resorts on the doorstep and year-round riding at nearby glaciers. Burton Snowboards set up their first non-American headquarters here in 1992. Innsbruck definitely was the place where all the cool kids hung out these days.
“Of course, the once-edgy sport of snowboarding has seen a marked drop in participation over the last decade, but freestyling grew in popularity. The newschoolers community has grown and continues to grow,” says Bjarni as he puts the finishing touches on a massive jump with his 300 horsepower snow grooming machine. As terrain park grooming supervisor he is mainly responsible for Skyline Park, from planning to digging, shaping, moving and finishing.
The ski resort at Innsbruck’s Seegrube Mountain is noted for being extremely snow sure—which is both a curse and a blessing for Bjarni and his crew of five terrain park shapers. In case of heavy snowfall, the park will need a complete, time-consuming and demanding reshape, where all the skills and knowledge of the shapers are needed. The obstacles need to be stored away to avoid them being snowed in. After the snow stops falling, it takes a huge effort of the shape crew to rebuild the whole park. “This happens up to eight times a season,” explains the park shaper.
Bjarni starts working before sunrise at 4:00pm and finishes long after sunset; often he grooms and shapes into the late night. How he got into building parks? There is no school for this. He first learned to drive snowcats in Tirol’s Zillertal Valley and he has perfected the art of machine operating and terrain park shaping over the years. “Most important is endurance. You have to be quick to grab a shovel and pitch in, working relentlessly in bone-numbing temperatures. And it’s good to have some technical understanding,” says the Norse who found his second home in Tirol.
The best part of his job is all the creativity. He loves to keep the setup of “his” park fresh during the winter. Thus he redesigns and rebuilds features based on suggestions and reports from riders over the season. “It’s a closely-knit community up here, with a lot of great riders. Of course, it’s impossible to please everyone. But in the end, every rider seems to enjoy the park,” says Bjarni Thor Valdimarsson. Although he is able to test any feature in front of him, he doesn’t hit the big jumps anymore. “This is a sport for young people,” the 41-year old adds with a laugh.
Photo Credits: Bert Heinzlmeier