In February 2005, Aaron Coret was a third-year engineering student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a passion for snowboarding. His goal was to turn pro some day, but that dream changed instantly when he crashed while snowboarding in a Whistler Blackcomb terrain park, a playground of huge ski jumps, and was left quadriplegic.
While he lay in a hospital bed reconsidering his life, he discovered his new passion: reinventing safety for the sport he loves. With the help of his snowboarding buddy Stephen Slen, Coret developed the Landing Pad, a huge inflatable pad designed to soften bad landings in terrain parks. The duo is now working to take the pads to market.
“We want to change the way people learn tricks,” says Coret, who is 24 years old and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “Right now, there’s no safety standard. It’s a free-for-all, with kids trying all the tricks they see in the movies with little regard for safety.”
At the time of the accident, Coret was enrolled in UBC’s integrated engineering course, a program that has students design, build and test projects in different engineering disciplines.
Once out of the hospital, Coret started working on the Landing Pad as a course assignment. He wanted to make a safety device to mimic the landing of a real terrain-park jump so riders could learn their tricks in a safe environment before trying them on actual jumps which usually have hard-packed and icy landings.
After two initial prototypes, they arrived at a final design, completed in 2008. It’s essentially a giant airbag that runs from the top of a terrain-park jump to the bottom of the landing zone, tapering to snow level at the end. Two fans continuously fill the 4-foot-high, 50-foot-wide, 90-foot-long pad with air. When a skier lands on the pad, the air compresses, cushioning the impact.
Coret and Slen tested the pad at Whistler’s Blackcomb Glacier during the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009, further refining it. The Landing Pad made its public debut at Lake Louise, Alta., in May 2009, when more than 300 skiers and snowboarders turned up on what is usually a quiet weekend.
“I landed straight down on my head a couple times, and it felt pretty soft,” says Jake Cohn, a UBC environmental science student and an avid skier, who tried the pad at Lake Louise and Blackcomb. “It’s a bit like a Slip ’n Slide. I rolled over and slid off the end of the pad and skied away.” When he landed on his feet, “it felt like a deep powdery landing,” he says. “It’s like real life. I learned how to do a double front flip on the Landing Pad and then tried it in the park without the pad and landed it first try.”
Coret now hopes to take that same safe progression to every terrain park. His company with Slen, Katal Innovations Inc., is finalizing pricing and a business model for selling a large Landing Pad for terrain parks, a smaller one for half-pipes or small jumps and an off-snow model. They hope to lease the pads to ski hills or ski camps and will supply an integrated safety component that will include employee training, educational signage, video and other support.
With ski hills around the world showing interest, Coret is on the way to achieving his goal. “The Landing Pad is my way of giving back to the sport I love.”