Advanced lessons in S-rail studies
DHS student puts his touch on DMR's new terrain park

Silas Hatch, a freshman at Durango High School, welds together two pieces of steel that will eventually become an S-rail for DMR’s new terrain park./Photo by Todd Newcomer

Dozens of Durango skiers have been venerated at Durango Mountain Resort with some of the most popular ski runs boasting their names. Now a Durango High School snowboarder is joining the ranks of Chet, Sally and Ray in his own sophisticated way.

Silas Hatch, a 15-year-old freshman and ranking snowboarder who was sponsored by Inferno Snowboards last year, isn’t getting a run named after him. But he is building and adding a new S-rail to the ski area’s terrain park, making his contribution the first of its kind. When Hatch enrolled in a metal fabrication class this year at the high school, he instantly knew that his class project would be some sort of snowboard feature. The idea sprang from his experience last summer, when Hatch, his friend and his friend’s father built a snowboard rail for Hatch’s back yard. After honing his boarding skills, Hatch decided he wanted to hone his welding skills and contribute something to DMR that could bear his mark.

Since Hatch is a volunteer at the resort’s terrain park, helping groom the area and set up boarding obstacles, he approached his boss, Eric Mischker, a couple of months ago about his idea. Mischker initially was hesitant, only because Hatch lacks the welding certification required for resort infrastructure. However, the student and boss figured that if Hatch’s metal fabrication instructor, Paddy Lynch, oversaw the project and certified the welds, that DMR officials would sanction the project.

It all worked out. And now Hatch is hard at work. In a deal struck between Durango High School and Durango Mountain Resort, Hatch is able to build the S-rail with funds from the resort, plus some supplies from his class. Mischker, the snowmaking and terrain park manager, declined to say how much money the resort donated to Hatch’s project.

Mellow and whippy

Hatch, a soft-spoken, modest kid who hasn’t even told his friends about his project, is working silently on the S-rail, with hopes of finishing it by the end of the month. He first drew up plans for the rail, based on the one he helped build last year, as well as his own experience as a snowboarder for the past several years.

“It’s going to be 25 feet long and 4 feet high, so it’s nothing like they have at DMR right now,” Hatch said.

The S-rail is exactly as it sounds. Hatch takes a steel pole and, using a 2 1/2-ton metal bending machine at the high school, fashions the pole into the shape of an “S.” The pole’s legs are buried in the snow. Throw some safety skirting around it, and the new terrain park rail is ready for boarders to hop onto and slide along. It fits right in with the obstacles that define the gravity-defying acrobatics of this unconventional sport.

So, Hatch hopes that the rail appeals to jibbers of all stripes.

“It’s not going to be too mellow, but it won’t too whippy either,” he says in snowboardese.

Regardless, the need and desire for a new feature attests to the sport’s growing popularity, especially among teen-agers. Nearly 15 years ago, many skiers and industry leaders didn’t expect “knuckle draggers” to be anything more than a flash-in-the-pan. Instead, these amateur clairvoyants have watched a new generation of riders grow like weeds and board with creativity and eagerness to catch air.

Snowboarding now represents 28 percent of all downhill participants in the United States, according to Snow Sport Industries America (SIA), a nonprofit trade association. Those numbers are up 10 percent since the previous year, consistently growing since the ’80s.

Consequently, S-rails are common features in terrain parks, so DMR is pleased about Silas’ contribution, Mischker adds.

“We’ve had a C-rail in the past, Serpentine rail and a backwards ‘S’ with a kink, but this will be the first real S-rail that we hope will be here for another eight to 10 years,” Mischker says.

Hatch’s rail will go in the terrain park that this year will be placed on the Paradise run. Mischker reports that the park is being moved from Limbo to Paradise, which is 3,000 feet long and will offer such features as a half-pipe, quarter-pipe and an assortment of rails and jumps. The Paradise park, Mischker says, will be rated a double-black diamond. A more intermediate park will remain on Pitchfork. DMR put its first terrain park in place in 1994.

Students Jason Cline, left, and Hatch square up the base of the future terrain park S-rail./ Photo by Todd

Modest welding

Lynch, the DHS metal fabrication instructor, is thrilled about Hatch’s project. He’s pleased that Hatch took on such a task that will benefit boarders while at the same time contribute to the local ski area.

“I like his initiative, especially for just learning to weld,” Lynch says. “The kids in this class do some pretty amazing stuff.”

Hatch says that in spite of the pending fame his S-rail will have, he doesn’t plan to pursue a welding career. His infatuation is only temporary.

“I don’t think I want to do this for a living, because welding is scary,” he says. “But one thing I’ve learned is that you need to know a lot about safety and have a lot of patience.”

That’s a lesson in and of itself, he adds.

But whether he’s looking forward to the fame of his signature S-rail, Hatch is rather casual about it. He hasn’t, he says, even bragged to his friends about the project. Out of modesty, he’s keeping it on the down low.

“Why? They don’t need to know,” he states flippantly.

Eventually, they will. At least according to Mischker.

“This is all Silas’ design, and it will be really popular,” he says.









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