Meet the man behind the Eagle Terrain Park
By Mark Stanley
Photography by Tia Markland Crabtree
If Ryan Neptune is an artist, his canvass is frozen water and steel. His creation is shared experience.
The Boise businessman has been a professional snowboarder for the past 20 years. And it’s a sport he’s responsible for shaping, quite literally.
That’s because Neptune is arguably the most experienced terrain park builder in the world. His credits include the Gravity Games, U.S. Burton Open, and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Neptune’s company – Planet Built – is responsible for about 90 percent of the halfpipes used in major snowboarding contests.
Odds are, his latest creation is set to transform a dusty hillside near you.
I meet Neptune at his upscale and immediately-comfortable Mountain View Drive home. The 39-year-old gestures for me to sit on a leather sofa, and we exchange pleasantries. He’s dressed in stylish skateboard shoes, black jeans, and a Planet Built t-shirt.
My intent is to spend about 30 minutes discussing Neptune’s snowboarding career, then briefly touch on his plans for the controversial Eagle Terrain Park.
Instead, we sit and chat for over two hours. The topics range from philosophy and art, to business and broken collarbones. We debate the inconsistencies of Idaho’s snowpack, and I learn how Neptune grew up skiing and snowboard at Bogus Basin. He talks about traveling to Japan and France. We sip ice water.
”I love doing things that people think are impossible,” Neptune tells me midway through our interview.
He pushes a button on a small remote, and a large painting retracts into the wall on a motorized track, revealing a flat screen TV.
”They told me that would cost $14,000 at R.C. Willey, he says. “I built it for $2,000.”
Neptune’s proposal for the Eagle Terrain Park will cost a whole lot more.
He wants to call it “The Nest.”
The idea is to invest about a million bucks in the Eagle Sports Complex over the next six months. Most of it will be in equipment costs, used to turn the sage-covered hillside into a gleaming white terrain park for about 100 days each winter.
Neptune’s plan calls for snow guns, a grooming machine, rope tows, and equipment to outfit a small reservoir for wakeboarding in the summer.
There’ll be a tubing hill for families, a rental shop for slinging gear, and a concession area. Neptune eventually hopes to operate the facility year round. The idea is get kids into snow and wake sports faster, easier, and for less money.
”What I’m wanting to do here in Eagle is about me wanting to get my kids to do it,” he tells me.
As we chat in Neptune’s living room, I notice his wife and kids have politely retreated to the back of the home. At one point, he calls his two sons into the room and asks them pointedly if they enjoy snowboarding.
The 12-and-13-year-olds look at me sheepishly, and both nod obediently. Neptune cracks a smile.
”Tell the truth,” he cajoles, but they stick with the story. It’s heartwarming to watch them want to please their dad in front of me.
Neptune laughs and sends them off to play. He explains that both boys have tried snowboarding with mixed success. He says increasingly, kids need activities to be easy and fun before they can become hooked, just like he did.
“It’s a flip of a coin whether your kid is going to enjoy the sport,” he tells me.
Neptune’s goal is to increase those odds dramatically.
To do so, he wants to revolutionize the snow sports industry. The principle is something he calls Gateway Parks. It’s the newest outgrowth of his passion for the sport.
The central idea is to bring winter recreation areas closer to population centers, and thus increase participation via ease of use. He claims that smaller hills equals more fun for beginners, and that more fun equals more money spent down the road.
”My whole goal is to create skiing and snowboarders through tubing, and be the incubator for larger resorts,” he explains.
Neptune eventually wants to take his incubator nationwide. Eagle’s proposed terrain park – The Nest – would be his third Gateway Park, but only if it’s approved.
“I am prepared to build the largest skier visitation network in the United States,” he says to me, matter-of-factly.
But who really is Ryan Neptune — that’s a question I’m left increasingly curious about.
As we end our interview, I wonder about a career spent snowboarding – entering dozens of contests, traveling the world, and earning a living through shaping features out of snow. Then, I reflect on some of the more interesting points of our interview.
First, Neptune says he doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke. He turned me down on the offer of a beer at the local Sockeye Brewpub, saying he’d never really had time for it. Later on in our interview, this strikes me as particularly intuitive.
That’s because Neptune tells me that while he watched other competitors party and goof off in the early stages of his career, he used his free time building jumps. Neptune says he used to talk with snowcat drivers on the job, learning how to drive their grooming machines, then utilizing that skill to his advantage.
Second, Neptune hardly snowboards anymore. Instead, he opts to ride a snow skate — which is basically a skateboard with a downhill ski bolted onto the bottom and no bindings. Neptune says it’s simply more of a challenge after spending 20 years strapped to a board.
Finally, I ask him if he considers himself to be an innovator in both business and action sports. He says no to both, claiming that what he does is simply focused on positivity, and the shared experience of snowboarding.
“The hope and wish that if it was fun for me, it would be fun for other people,” he explains.