Even Without Snow, Central Park's Winter Jam Stages Cool Sports

For the third Central Park Winter Jam festival, the Parks Department replaced weather-dependent activities with an 80-foot-long snow flume, which was reconfigured on-site as a ramp structure for amateur snowboarding tricks.

By Michael O'Connell February 12, 2008, 1:03 PM EST

Central Park's snow flume

Photo: Chris Ross for BizBash

The noticeable lack of snow and cold weather didn’t keep the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation and the Olympic Regional Development Committee from throwing the third annual Central Park Winter Jam on Saturday. Ten thousand people passed through a makeshift pavilion surrounding the park’s Naumburg Bandshell for an eight-hour marathon of musical acts and winter sports.

“We’re trying to bring a lot of traffic and activity to an area that just doesn’t see a lot of either in February,” said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. “Events like this are part of an ongoing effort to get people out and exercising all year round—and not just in traditional ways. You now see a real emphasis on less conventional sports like snowboarding, mountain biking, and kayaking in the city.”

Amid the sea of sponsored tents and booths was the event’s focal point: a two-story-high, 80-foot-long snow flume built by Portland, Maine-based company Aura360. The planning team had hoped to have a snow blower, but the high temperatures forced them to use crushed ice to cover the makeshift hill. Starting at noon, the flume was open to anyone interested in tubing down the slope; at 4 p.m. Aura360 closed the ride, dismantling and reconstructing the modular system into a different configuration for the “rail jam”—a platform for amateur snowboarders to show off their skills for the crowd. (This same apparatus was seen earlier last week at the Jeep-sponsored Union Square Street Sessions, where 20 professional snowboarders competed for $30,000 in prize money.)

Balmy weather is becoming less and less of a surprise in February, so while the Parks Department would have liked to offer an area for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, it planned for other activities like the snow flume to compensate for a lack of snow-related ones. Among the many tents housing this year’s offerings were the Pride of New York Warming Hut with hot drinks and snacks, a greenmarket, and plenty of games for kids and adults. With the Department of Parks and Recreation operating on a tight budget, Winter Jam relies entirely on the participation and contributions of local businesses.

“Winter Jam is one of our biggest events over the course of the year, and even in its third year, we can already see a loyal audience growing,” said Emily Chase, director of sponsored events for the Parks Department. “We held the Winter Festival on the East Meadow for seven years, but it was just too far to get the kind of crowd we get down here.” Foot traffic isn’t the only benefit to the Bethesda Fountain-adjacent site. As the Naumburg Bandshell is closer to the southern and more accessible end of the park, activities there are more likely to attract the attention of the local television media; early-morning coverage offers free publicity throughout the tristate area.

Cold weather or not, the event doesn't seem to have suffered, as the response and attendance has grown considerably over the three installments. This year even included a philanthropic component, with a Bronx teen (and snowboarding enthusiast) outfitted with brand-new equipment as a part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s 7,000th wish.

Correction: In the original version of this story, a caption misidentified the band the Season.

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