Phil Jacques, a professional snowboarder from Quebec City, knows all too well the costs associated with his favourite sport.
"Going snowboarding at a resort is expensive, so having a hill like this that is free cuts back a lot on the cost," Jacques said on Thursday, as snowboarders slid down rails behind him at the foot of Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
"I think it's very important to have something like this for kids."
He was talking about the new Parc de rails Dillon Ojo, a publicly accessible snow park that is free to use every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until the end of March or as long as the weather permits.
Vans, the shoe manufacturer, partnered with the Dillon Ojo Lifeline Foundation and the Montreal Olympic Park to construct the snow park. It's designed for use by skiers and snowboarders at beginner and advanced levels.
There's no chairlift, T-bar or rope tow, but it's just a short walk to the top of a groomed slope that is loaded with rails, jib boxes and jumps.
Built in honour of Dillon Ojo
The Dillon Ojo Lifeline Foundation, established by Ojo's family, proposed the snow park idea. The foundation works to increase accessibility to sports, particularly snowboarding and skateboarding, which were Ojo's two favourite activities.
Ojo was a well-known Montreal snowboarder and artist who died in 2018. He was 23 when he fell three storeys from a ladder on St-Dominique Street in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough and died.
"I think he's being honoured in a beautiful, beautiful way," said Elaine Charles, Ojo's mother. "He'd be blown away."
He loved music, animals and being outdoors, said Charles. She said her son would be humbled by the new park, and happy to know kids of all backgrounds will have easier access to the sport.
She remembers driving her son around with snow in the back of her van, looking for places he could slide rails and get big air.
"To know you can just come here, spend the day, bring a lunch, get here by Metro, it's very heart-fulfilling," said Charles.
Charles said the foundation is hoping to open more snow parks around the province "and the legacy of our son will continue."
Skateboarding landmark adds snow sports
Montreal's Olympic Stadium has long been a skateboarding landmark, with its curbs and curves winding around the sprawling concrete plaza, known as the Esplanade, that surrounds the tallest inclined tower in the world.
In recent years, the Vans Skatepark has been installed on the Esplanade, ensuring skaters are able to grind, ollie and slide safely, without damaging urban infrastructure.
Snow parks, also known as terrain parks, are now a common feature at alpine resorts, but the cost of a lift ticket can be prohibitive and even getting to a nearby mountain is a challenge for some young people.
Then there is the cost of the equipment itself, with boots, skis and snowboards selling for hundreds of dollars.
And while skateparks are increasingly common, public snow parks are rare. Laval has a new one in its park, the Centre de la Nature, but usually enthusiasts are stuck improvising, as Ojo once did around Montreal — or they have to find a way to pay for a trip to the ski hill.
Giovanni Vacca describes Ojo as one of his best friends. He recalled how Ojo would lament the costs associated with snowboarding, "but having something like this in the city makes this sport way more accessible."
"He was the best, and he was an awesome snowboarder and we are super excited to have this park," said Vacca.