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Idaho Potato Drop will have new tater and snowboarding action

Custom Manufacturing in Caldwell is building the new glowing potato for the next Idaho Potato Drop. Photo courtesy of Dylan Cline.

Custom Manufacturing in Caldwell is building the new glowing potato for the next Idaho Potato Drop. Photo courtesy of Dylan Cline.

The fourth Boise New Year’s Eve with an Idaho Potato Drop will come with a new, glowing potato and a snowboarding competition to fill the afternoon and early evening hours.

Idaho Potato Drop founder Dylan Cline has wanted to have a snowboarding event as part of the New Year’s Eve celebration since the first potato drop in 2013, but in recent years has run into scheduling conflicts with Boise-based snowboard terrain builder Ryan Neptune.

This year, along with Neptune’s rail jam pro-am snowboarding competition, Cline is replacing the 17-foot steel-and-foam, brown potato that served the first three Idaho Potato Drops. The old potato was designed to last only a couple of years, Cline said. And the new one will light up and glow.

LED lights are installed in the aluminum truss that runs down the spine of the new glowing potato. Photo courtesy of Dylan Cline.

LED lights are installed in the aluminum truss that runs down the spine of the new glowing potato. Photo courtesy of Dylan Cline.

The new, 18-foot fiberglass potato, or “glowtato” as Cline is calling it, is under construction at Custom Manufacturing in Caldwell. It will have an aluminum truss spine dotted with LED lighting. The potato, designed by Schofield Design in Boise, will be able to flash, glow, sparkle, fade in and out, and might feature many colors, Cline said.

“This year we’ll stick with white lights,” said Cline, CEO of the Idaho New Year’s Commission, the business entity for the Idaho Potato Drop.

Neptune commented that the glowing potato should retire a word commonly used by some to describe the original potato.

“They can’t say you are dropping a turd,” Neptune said.

Ryan Neptune (left) and Dylan Cline with the original giant potato used in the first three Idaho Potato Drops. Photo by Pete Grady.

Ryan Neptune (left) and Dylan Cline with the original giant potato used in the first three Idaho Potato Drops. Photo by Pete Grady.

The $60,000 new potato is part of the overall $150,000 budget to stage this year’s Idaho Potato Drop, this year again at Capitol Park in front of the State Capitol. The 2015 budget was $125,000; in 2014 the cost was $300,000 because the event closed off several downtown blocks; and the first Idaho Potato Drop cost about $70,000, paid for in part with a crowdfunding campaign that raised $30,000, Cline said.

So far, Cline has $75,000 in sponsorships from the Idaho Potato Commission, Mountain America Credit Union, Key Design Websites, Boise CodeWorks, Albertsons and Gateway Parks. Cline is seeking another $75,000 in sponsorships.

Idaho Potato Commission CEO Frank Muir immediately embraced Cline’s idea for a New Year’s Eve drop with a giant potato when Cline presented the idea in 2012. Muir told Cline to work on his business model and return the following year.

“When Dylan came back the second year, I wrote him a check. We’re committed,” Muir said. The Idaho Potato Commission’s sponsorship this year is for $50,000.

Muir and Cline said officials told them they would prefer the dropping of a gem or another Idaho symbol over a potato. Muir recalled that when he arrived in Idaho 13 years, ago, there was some shame about the symbolism about the potato. Some wanted to remove Famous Potatoes from license plates and others campaigned successfully to keep the potato off the Idaho quarter.

“Folks just don’t understand what (associating Idaho with) the potato means for people outside of Idaho,” Muir said. “It is important to communicate locally the value of the Idaho potato… To see somewhere north of 30,000 people (at the first Idaho Potato Drop), I was just so thrilled to see how far we’ve come.”

Rail jam will liven up Idaho Potato Drop

The Idaho Potato Drop has moved each of its first three years. It was originally staged on the Grove Plaza parking lot where the new Clearwater Building now stands, and then moved a few feet to the intersection of Eighth and Main streets. Last year it relocated to Capitol Park, likely its long-term venue.

“That’s our home,” Cline said.

As the potato drop itself doesn’t happen until 11:59 p.m., Cline has added other events and distractions to fill the afternoon and evening hours. Bands perform, there’s a VIP tenant, and food trucks are on hand. New this year will be a heated family tent with educational and interactive activities including art classes.

Dylan Cline

Dylan Cline

“Really, it’s a way to keep people warm,” Cline said.

The fireworks show dovetailing with the potato drop will be twice as large last year’s, staged by Western Display Fireworks of Canby, Ore.

This year, however, action entertainment will be in store for spectators with the snowboard rail jam pro-am competition that Neptune is staging next to the potato drop with professional snowboarders from neighboring states. This will involve a 40-by-80-foot, two-tiered snowboarding surface with rails installed along the course, which will have two flat platforms and two slanted platforms, Neptune said.

“It’s a skateboard park for the snow,” Neptune said. “It will be crazy cool.”

Neptune himself was a professional snowboard racer from 1992 to 2004, and was first overall U.S. snowboard boardercross champion in 1999. Even before he became a professional snowboarder, in 1987 he established Neptune Industries, a local metal manufacturing company in support of terrain park features. That was followed in 1992 with his Planet Snowtools, now called just Planet, with which he has built more than 500 snowboard terrain parks in 10 countries, including for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. He also built the big air and half pipe circuits for the 2016 Snowboard World Championships near Harbin, China.

And he’s built hundreds of temporary rail jam facilities in unlikely places such as Times Square in New York City, a beach in San Diego, the Rose Quarter in Portland, and the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas.

Recent years, however, have shifted Neptune’s focus to his newest company, Gateway Parks, established in 2011. Gateway Parks builds snowparks in cities, such as the one at Eagle Island State Park.

“The whole idea is to bring a mountain to the people,” Neptune said.

So far, Neptune has built just two snowparks with Gateway Parks. These are two-acre beginner urban ski areas for children with a tubing hill on one side and a 20- to 40-foot ski slope and snowboarding terrain on the other. He built the first at Hawk Island in Lansing, Mich. After three years, that snowpark was moved to Rockford, Ill., and now is in Franklin, Wisc., outside Milwaukee.

Neptune is in discussions to build as many as 20 more of these urban snowparks.

“Fifty to 70 percent of the kids who go are Hispanic,” Neptune said. “I want to grow the industry.”

Idaho Potato Drop went viral

Cline believes the rail jam will add excitement to the New Year’s Eve festivities.

“I’m always going to rail jam events,” Cline said. “I think the rail jam element takes it to a whole new level. It brings legitimacy to our event. We needed to do something to compete with other cities.”

KTVB televised the first potato drop and shared it with sister network affiliates, with Boise ending up showcased with a dozen other New Year’s Eve object drops around the world on MSNBC.

Reader’s Digest in its “Best of America” sections chose the Idaho Potato Drop to represent the state in a “50 Astonishing Facts You Never Knew About the 50 States.”

“We were in the British Airways in-flight magazine,” Cline said.

Muir has experienced tangible results for his Idaho Potato Commission investment in New Year’s Eve, Boise-style.

“People are coming from all over the country and outside the U.S,” Muir said. “I met people last year from Germany and Australia. One couple said: ‘We’re from New York. We had to see a potato drop.”

At the beginning, why did Cline think people would show up for his first Idaho Potato Drop?

“Because we were dropping a potato,” he said.

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.