Putting the fire back in Angel Fire: Jon Eppler wants the ski area to boast a world-class terrain park

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Jon Eppler, following in his father’s footsteps, is the new terrain park designer at Angel Fire Resort. (Courtesy of Angel Fire Resort)

Jon Eppler has chased snow around the globe, but now he’s returning to his roots in Angel Fire to build the resort a world-class terrain park.

“My father was the slope operations manager at Angel Fire when I was a kid,” said Eppler, who is a 2005 graduate of Cimarron High School and found time to play baseball and basketball for the Rams when he wasn’t on the slopes. “He was one of the guys that started the terrain park at Angel Fire and put Angel Fire on the map terrain park-wise.”

Eppler has worked the ESPN XGames as well as the U.S.A. Snowboard and Freeski Association nationals last year.

Before moving back home, he worked at Buttermilk Mountain in Vail, Colo., and spent the off-season at a ski resort in Australia during the winter in the southern hemisphere.

But the lure of returning to New Mexico and assuming his dad’s old job was too strong, especially since his home slopes were in need of his expertise.

“I had the opportunity to come back home and get the terrain park on the map,” Eppler said.

Some disappointing snow seasons and a de-emphasis on the terrain aspect of the mountain took its toll, he said.

“Some of the terrain park was taken off line and turned back into ski runs,” Eppler said.

All of that has changed, however, as Angel Fire is making a concerted effort to not only restore Liberation Terrain Park, but to take it up several notches. Bringing in Eppler is being coupled with the installation of a dedicated lift for the terrain park, all of which should return it to prominence.

“I wanted to bring it up to date,” Eppler said. “I wanted to change the style of jumps that were made to the ones that I made in Aspen and Australia. I want Angel Fire to catch up with what’s going on in the industry. I wanted to put in the same style of jumps that professionals hit and bring that to our local kids so they can have a chance to ride what they see in magazines and on videos.”

It’s been a craft that he’s worked at since was very young.

Since Eppler’s dad also runs an excavation business in town and since most of the snow work was done at night, it quickly became a time for father-son bonding in addition to work.

“When I was a kid, I really didn’t get to see Dad much,” Eppler said. “When I did, it would be when I would go to work with him. I started when I was about nine years old. I fell in love with it.”

Still, he attended the University of New Mexico for 3½ years and even worked an internship with an engineering firm.

But his first love won out and he took a position as an assistant back at Angel Fire after his dad had moved on to other venues.

Then he moved on to Vail and Australia, carving out a reputation as a leading course designer.

“The course that I worked at in Vail was one of the top five in the world,” Eppler said. “I learned from the best.”

One of the big things he learned is that terrain parks are no longer created by simply pushing dirt around with machinery.

“The style of jump, the angle of take-off takes a little more hand work with rake and shovels,” Eppler said. “It’s not just building with a snow cat anymore. There’s a little more hand work and a little more love goes into every feature.”

Eppler is also introducing a new style of terrain park with graduated features that are progressively harder and riskier.

“I want to have a feature for anybody that comes up here and rides,” he said. “We’re going to have something for somebody that wants a full experience to people just learning how to get on the terrain park.”

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A snowboarder catches some air in Angel Fire’s Liberation Terrain Park. (Courtesy of Angel Fire Resort)

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A snowboarder balances on an obstacle in Angel Fire’s terrain park. (Courtesy of Angel Fire)

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