One of the greatest innovations in ski resort development has been the inclusion of terrain parks.
This aspect of skiing and snowboarding has always been with us, of course — downed trees have served as natural rails and jibs since the early days of downhill sliding — but it’s only recently that resort management has put a lot of thought into layout and design of terrain parks.
But just because every ski hill nowadays has at least a handful of man-made features for riders to play on doesn’t mean that if you’ve ridden one terrain park, you’ve ridden ’em all. Like snow flakes, no two parks are genuinely alike.
Here are 10 resorts that have some of the best — and innovative — parks in North America:
Two of the four resorts that make up the Aspen/Snowmass complex (Buttermilk and Snowmass) have a plethora of rails, boxes, pipes and other aspects of park life. At Buttermilk, there’s the centerpiece of the annual Winter X Games — a massive halfpipe with 22-foot-high walls — and there are more than 100 features spread along the X Games’ slopestyle course. Snowmass, meanwhile, has three separate terrain parks and a 22-foot halfpipe.
Bear Mountain, California
This small (195 acres) SoCal resort is almost all terrain park: 85 percent of its total area is dedicated to park life. With 174 features and 12- and 18-foot pipes, Bear was voted the country’s No. 1 terrain park in a recent Snowboarding magazine poll.
With four terrain parks, including a 22-foot pipe, spread across the resort’s five peaks, Breck, which annually hosts a stop on the winter Dew Tour, has been consistent leader in park design and development. Not only does it have two beginner parks — Bonanza and Trygve’s, the latter being a kids’ only playground — the Freeway is a pro-level park that helped earned the resort a No. 1 rating in a recent Freeskier magazine poll.
The 60-acre complex known as A51 is a jibber’s paradise with 116 features. A51 is made up of a half dozen separate terrain parks, ranging from kids’ only area to progression park to a pro setup; contains a 12- and an 18-foot pipe, and has its own dedicated lift.
Mammoth Mountain, California
Mammoth Unbound, as its collection of nine terrain parks is collectively called, has been always been in the forefront of park design and culture. The pro-level Main Park has 10 massive jumps and a dozen huge jibs that will test the skill — and the nerves — of the best. In all, Mammoth Unbound covers 64 acres, has 109 features and contains two large pipes, one with 18-foot walls and another 22-foot walls.
Mount Snow, Vermont
The 100-acre Carinthia face of this four “face” resort is totally devoted to park life, with 170 features and New England’s largest pipe (18-foot walls) spread over eight parks. Two of the parks deserve special mention: The Farm, which features jibs inspired by the local agricultural scene (barns, horse trailers, sugar shacks, etc), and Inferno, which has been the site of Winter X Games and Dew Tour competitions.
With more than 200 features spread over 58 acres and seven parks and an 18-foot superpipe, Northstar’s layout has something for every park rat. Of special interest are the Ripperoo Riglet Park for 4- to 6-year-old rippers and the Burton Progression Park, where those new to the game can learn their skills in a comfortable environment.
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania
Three things stand out at this small hill (285 acres and 750-foot vertical): It has seven parks with 86 features; it has the only 22-foot pipe in the eastern United States, and a park (The Streets) that has features — handrails, wallrides, stairsteps — inspired by the architecture of nearby Pittsburgh.
Sierra has several beautiful, perfectly built jump lines among its six parks; it also has a mid-size halfpipe (the only one in the South Lake Tahoe area) and a skier/boardercross course. And every Tuesday, riders can submit their ideas on new and/or improved design features to the park crew.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Although not the home of the pipe and park competition of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — those events were held closer to town at Cypress Mountain — Whistler nonetheless has huge presence in the freeriding game, with five terrain parks spread over its two mountains, a 22-foot pipe and a permanent skier/boardercross course. The slopestyle course at the Nintendo Highest Level park is the one used in the World Skiing Invitational/Association of Freestyle Professionals World Championships a few years ago.