Hilltop Ski Area isn't much of a mountain. After all, it offers just 294 feet of vertical.
But Anchorage's in-town ski area is aiming to make a mark among snowboarders and skiers by offering some two dozen features -- with more on the way -- at its Ptarmigan Terrain Park.
"That's more than double last year," said Rick Cramer, Hilltop's general operations manager. "This is my sixth season, and we're seeing a lot of new faces on the hill. The kids want to keep going until they get beat up."
Upgrades cost more than $20,000, Cramer said.
"We do a lot of re-using and modifying where we can," he said, adding that donations from such companies as Bill's Distributing has helped. "With us being a nonprofit, we wheel and deal as much as we can."
A small kiddie park aimed at newbies has small features, rails and boxes.
"Hilltop could be so sick if we just put the time into it," said Mason Hulen, 21, Hilltop's terrain park manager. "Now that we're actually building it, it's something that's just awesome and cool. I like the fact that we're at ground level."
That means offering plenty of TLC and regularly updating the features. Hilltop's park crew go through during the day, grooming with snow rakes to ensure no ruts form. Every night before going home, workers hand groom every rail.
"That's extremely important," Hulen said. "We're working hard as we can. Parks need variation, changes, new things to keep riders interested and wanting to keep coming back. You can't have the same rails set up the same way without kids getting bored."
While no match for areas like the Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., which offers more than 100 features, Hilltop's growing terrain park may keep some riders and skiers in town. While Alyeska Ski Resort boasts its new Super Pipe this season as well as its own terrain park, Girdwood is nearly an hour away and lift tickets are more expensive than at Hilltop.
"It's a different kind of clientele," said Paul Kelly, head coach of the Big Alaska Snowboard Team and Hilltop's terrain park coordinator. "I think it's getting kids who wouldn't normally ride -- who would go off to do urban stuff. There are a lot more beginners too."
Over the summer, workers cleared a couple of acres on Hilltop's Ptarmigan Run of trees and dead limbs, leveling it out and adding a couple hundred cubic yards of dirt.
The leveling helps when snowfall is sparse; the larger features require less snow.
"Without Mason, the park wouldn't be where it is today," Kelly said. "He worked for Snow Park Technologies, a major design company that's really pushing the level of design and progression. He's very creative. Our management is very open to what we want and what our clients are into."
Snow Park Technologies has constructed courses and features for the X Games and several major resorts. And while Hilltop will never have a budget approaching what a major resort can spend, Hulen and others hope that attention to detail pays off.
"They're loving it," Cramer said of the terrain park riders. "It seems to be the talk around here, and I'm here most nights. Anything we can do to keep the youth busy and avoiding problems is great."
Reach Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.