The Corvatsch Park is one of the biggest and most creative snow parks of the Alpine region. Let’s have a look behind the scenes and accompany the shapers during their nighttime work.
5.00 p.m. – for Pascal Zwicky and Kobi Würsch it’s time to start working. During the uphill ride with the Corvatsch mountain railway, they discuss tonight’s plan: The flowline needs new rail elements and they will of course freshly prepare the entire snow park.
The two friends have found their dream job: they are shapers. Strictly speaking, they are «park machine operators”. This means that they are in charge of the hard work that requires the use of machines, which is mostly is done at night. They push the snow onto huge heaps which they then use to form jumps and waves, ledges and curves, and whatever else freeriders might wish for.
For their work they have a special crawler type vehicle, distinctively named «ParkPro», at their disposal. “The front blade and the tiller at the back have a great range of motion,» Pascal explains. “The chassis is positioned higher than in conventional snow groomers. This makes the ParkPro much more manoeuvrable, which is of great help in the snow park.»
In order to present a perfect «white carpet» to the guests each morning, there is a lot of fine tuning required as well, which needs to be done by hand. The main tool of the so-called hand shapers is the snow shovel, or to be more exact: the shaping tool, a specially designed shovel with an extra-long handle and a serrated digging blade. It helps the hand shapers prepare those areas which cannot be reached by the machines, such as the last metres right before the take-off ledge.
In the early morning, usually one or two hand shapers are already up on the mountain, making sure that everything is ready and that safety is ensured. During the day, they do their rounds in the park as the go-to guys for snowboarders and freeskiers. In addition to this, they lend a hand when – like tonight – major alterations and setups are on the agenda.
Kobi sits in the cockpit of the «ParkPro» while the two hand shapers Jonas and Andrea fix an eight-metre pipe to its front blade by means of thick, strong slings. Kobi carefully hefts up the new rail and drives with it to the prepared snow heap. In the process of putting it in place inch-perfect, Jonas and Andrea help him by each holding one end of the pipe and thus guiding it into the correct position.
The work is demanding and not always hazard-free. Furthermore, a park shaper needs to be very flexible as his working hours are determined by the weather. When there is a storm or heavy snowfall, he has to be up on the mountain by 5 a.m. and sometimes even earlier, so that everything will be ready when the first guests arrive.
Anna is an experienced hand shaper who also takes care of the social media channels of the Corvatsch Park. They come from around the world: Anna is a Swede, Pascal, Kobi and Jonas are Swiss, Andrea is Italian, the third machine operator James is from Australia and Alin is from Romania.
«It’s fun to work with people of so many different nationalities,» the Engadin-born Pascal says. «We are all driven by the passion for freestyle and learn a lot from each other.» As team coordinator, the 25-year-old has the overall responsibility. He has worked at the Corvatsch Park for six years, first as a hand shaper, and for the past four years as a machine operator.
«Pascal is very talented and a fast learner,» says his friend Kobi, who was born in central Switzerland and gained experience as a machine operator during 22 winter seasons. As he is one of the most sought-after snow park architects in Switzerland, Kobi is responsible for the concept and setup of the World Cup Park where the world’s best freeskiers meet for the World Cup finals at the end of March.
«We have a large and professional team, and we need it when we want to be one of the best parks of the Alpine region,» Markus Moser, CEO of the Corvatsch AG, is convinced. He invests in the snow park because young freestylers are the guests of the future. For him, it is important to offer the skiers and snowboarders a park for each skill level, from beginners to pros.
If you want to enjoy the Corvatsch Park to the fullest, you should do a thorough «Inspection Run», says Pascal. «Have a good look at the lines and obstacles, and calculate your risks. Also take the weather into consideration, as snow, wind and poor sight will affect your run. This is what the pros do.»
Top athletes use the Corvatsch Park on a regular basis. One of them is snowboarder Nicolas Huber, the surprise runner-up world champion of 2017. «From shaper to World Cup silver» the headlines ran back then, seeing as Nicolas started his career as a common hand shaper at Corvatsch Park. Today, he is one of the best in his field and he says: «In spring, you will find on Corvatsch what is likely to be the best park of the Alps. Due to the altitude there is always great snow until the end of April, and anyway: the crew is just super cool.»