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If you're into your freestyle and looking to book your winter break or head out on a season, it's these resorts you want to head for. So we've compiled a helpful list of parks you should definitely make time to lap. Here is our pick of the parks for 2013-14.
[part title='Mammoth, USA']
The nine parks cover a staggering 100 acres and have about 200 combined features, which should ensure that there is plenty for all abilities. The Canyon Lodge Family Park has small boxes and a mini pipe with 10ft walls that provides a safe area for beginners away from the busy Unbound Park. South Park provides a long trail with boxes, kickers, wall rides, jibs and pole jams for intermediate to advanced riders. Accessed by the high-speed chair 4, this tree-lined area is usually less icy than the main park due to its sheltered aspect. Alongside South Park is the tree-lined Jib Park trail, a haven for rail riders and park addicts when the visibility is bad.
The Unbound Park above Main Lodge has the largest kickers, accessed by a chairlift that runs above it, providing great views of the action below. In the top half of the park, street rails drop into kickers with tables up to 30 meters long, as well as wall rides and step-ups. Rider’s left is a superpipe, in the centre, a line to the bottom kickers and to the right the super-duper pipe with 22ft walls. In short it's a freestyle feast.
[part title='Morzine, France']
Morzine-Avoriaz scores highly for freestyle. Morzine’s park is average and bettered by the offering from neighbouring (and connected) Les Gets. However, riders need look no further than Avoriaz for the real freestyle deal. With two strong parks, a great halfpipe and the wood-themed Burton Stash, Avoriaz is properly switched on for freestyle. There’s even a small park for beginners.
The most popular spot is the Chapelle park. Serviced by a dedicated drag, it’s designed for everyone from beginners through to strong freestylers, with three kicker lines and plenty of jibs. It has a vibrant scene, reflecting the work that the shapers put in: music playing, well groomed hits, daily re-shapes, and fresh design. Avoriaz’s trump card is perhaps The Stash – one of only two in Europe. Originally built for advanced riders, they’ve since added some more routes, including 'Main Street', so the Stash now caters for all levels of freestyle ability. However, with ski schools going through it, and deliberately little maintenance, things can get very rutted. There are easily 20 hits from top to bottom: rails and boxes made from logs, picnic benches, rainbows, wall-rides, powslashes, hips, even jumps through trees – awesome.
For the truly bold, the connected resort of Les Crosets – just on the Swiss side of the border – has a monster park, full of unfeasibly large hits.
[part title='Mayrhofen, Austria']
The Penken Park in Mayrhofen is not huge, but don't let that put you off - it's a great all round snowboard park that has helped nurture numerous British Pros over the past decade. Starting at 1820m, the sun-drenched south-facing park sits in the basin at the foot of the Horberg and Penken peaks, where it is served by the Sun-jet chairlift. This lift takes a mere 5 minutes to get to the top, meaning you can notch up 30 plus park runs a day very easily. The pro line has three awesome jumps in a row, with the likes of Jamie Nicholls riding there regularly. The medium line is just a smaller version of the pro jumps, sitting parallel to them, with nice transitions and steep landings.
Squeezed between the pro and medium lines last season was the new Fun Area, which has its own entrance, and features a few lumps in a boardercross style.
On the right side of the pro area - if conditions allow - you'll find the 120m halfpipe, and a little further away the completely separated kids/beginners park.
Mayrhofen boasts a selection of rails to choose from, including down rails, double kinks a zig zag bar, elbow rails and selection of boxes and gaspipes. It is an awesome place for the rail rider to dial in their tricks.
The park also stays open until the last kicker has melted. The spring sun does batter the park, so it's best to get there early before the landings get too rutted. The Grillhofalm restaurant sits at the bottom of the park and gives a perfect view of the ensuing madness as well as serving great pizzas.
[part title='Val Thorens, France']
In recent years things have improved massively on the park front. These days, the season kicks off in early December with snowboard week, where the park is already up and running in great shape, thanks mostly to the fact they cover the snow mounds with tarp in the summer. The extensive snowmaking facilities allow the dedicated crew of shapers to build what is now one of the best parks in France with kickers up to 25meters in length. A progressive quarterpipe shaped like a pirate ship with gap to rail options through the centre shows a little of what they are capable of.
Local riders come from nearby resorts to session the line of four advanced kickers (with smaller options) that lead into the gap jib feature over the old Cime de Caron cable-car, and the large hip at the bottom. From the two drag lifts, a line of four smaller intermediate kickers separate the kicker areas from the jib lines. There are also beginner kickers, pole jams, tyre jibs, street rails, boxes and whoops, all of which are roped off to prevent ignorant tourists using your landing as a sightseeing spot.
[part title='Aspen, USA']
Between them the parks in Snowmass and Buttermilk areas have almost 200 features and two monster superpipes.
Everyone knows of the epic parks in Buttermilk due to the success of the X Games, but outside of this showpiece event, they still put in a fine effort at keeping things tip-top – if a little smaller. Head up to the Summit Express and you can hit three of the four parks in one two-mile long slopestyle extravaganza. At the top is a nice little intro, the jib focused Teaser Park; this dips into the trees and Chuck's Park – which is a bit like one of the all-natural Burton Stashes (though Chuck’s was built before Burton had the idea); this flows into the Jacob's Ladder Park, where things really start to pick up in size and technicality. If your legs aren’t jelly yet and you’re slightly mad, you can head into the pro park, the X Park. This is the park that is added to for the X Games, so it won’t be open in the run-up to the event. If you want to hit 70-feet booters or bust the 22-foot superpipe, then this is the place to head, and for the rest of us, we can just watch and wish we’d started snowboarding when we were kids. On the other side of the hill, off the West Buttermilk Express, is a more beginner and intermediate focused park, the S3.
The park setup on Snowmass is a lot more spread out, and arguably better maintained during the regular season; you’ll also find little man-made hits all over the place. The Lowdown Park is designed for first timers and offers some nice mellow boxes and jumps, and a very occasional small halfpipe. Located off the other lift that starts from the main base, you’ll find the Makaha Park. Well maintained, it increases the size of the kickers and offers more techie rails. Pros and halfpipe riders should head to the Snowmass Park, which sits above Jacobs Ladder and is served by the Coney Glade. Featured in ‘The Art of Flight’, this is by far the largest park in terms of features and the balls required to ride it.
[part title='Breckenridge, USA']
Breckenridge has one of the top five parks in America and probably the world! There are usually six different park areas stretching 25 acres that are spread across Peaks 8 and 9 – all the way from mini shred to ginormous pro lines. It’s the perfect place for anyone of any level to practise freestyle, and you are pretty much guaranteed to progress if you spend some time here. They have the perfect set up, with mini rails, boxes and jumps in the two mini parks, plus a small park, a medium park (Park Lane) and pipe, and finally the expert park (Freeway). This has the biggest and best-built jumps and pipe you will find… well, pretty much anywhere! Just ask Billy Morgan, who landed his famous triple rodeo here last year.
Breck invest a lot into their shaping team, and it shows. They have some of the earliest pre-season jumps, and the best on-going grooming and maintenance throughout the season. Everything is set up with painstaking precision, creating a safe environment in which to train - they even radar test the jumps to get the speed just right! The only slight downside is access to the parks. There are no dedicated lifts and it can take a while to complete a lap.
[part title='Whistler, Canada']
Repeatedly voted Best Park in the Transworld Snowboarding magazine's resort poll, Whistler’s freestyle areas cover a massive 99 acres in total. Blackcomb is home to three parks and two pipes, and Whistler has two parks. Each has their own unique appeal.
The parks cater to all levels. They are groomed to perfection every night and immaculately maintained to world class standard. In total there are 200+ features and 100+ jumps of all types imaginable: spines, tabletops, boxes, rails, natural tree jibs and bonks, a boardercross course and an Olympic sized superpipe (cut with a 22 foot global standard pipe-cutter). Match your ability level to the park size and be aware that to ride the 'Highest Level' park you need a helmet and a signed waiver form. Avoid 'Emerald Chair' and 'Solar Coaster' at peak uploading times.
[part title='Park City, USA']
Almost every snowboard movie including the Art of Flight features at least a couple of hits from Park City. The place boasts three terrain parks and a superpipe and its pro team includes the likes of Dan Brisse and Torah Bright.
The Ridge kicks things off in mellow style. Served by the Eagle lift, this long beginner and intermediate rider-designed park usually has three lines of difficulty featuring plenty of smaller kickers, bonks and straight and flat-down rails. The Three Kings park, near the base, turns it up a notch with much larger features and more tech rails, and is also floodlit. The King’s Crown is the daddy park whose monster booters are so enormous they can probably be seen from space. This one is only for pros and those who seriously know what they are doing.
[part title='Saalbach, Austria']
Freestyle has always been pretty high on the resort's agenda, and they now maintain no fewer than three terrain parks.
The largest park, called the Nightpark, is located right in the centre of the Hinterglemm village. It was expanded a few seasons ago, adding more floodlights and even replacing the lift with a gondola featuring heated seats. It is headed up by Austrian boardercross hotshot Mario Fuchs, and the team reshape the park twice daily. Whilst they've added more beginner features, it is still aimed more towards the intermediate and advanced freestyler with a separate line for each, and plenty of other hits dotted around the park. It sits at just 1000m and is open until 9:30pm every day, but it takes a brave person to hit those monster kickers on a freezing January night! Over in Leogang the Nitro Park - designed by another Austrian legend, Stefan Gimpl - is still going strong, where it is maintained by shapers Reini and Erwin and their team. It is a pretty imaginative setup and served by the Asitzmulden chairlift, featuring around 20 more natural jibs and a few kickers. Finally, at the bottom of the Bernkogel lift in Saalbach is the small Learn to Ride Park, and above that a boardercross course.
[part title='Sölden, Austria']
The Almdudler snowpark is located under the two main lifts that rise up from the Giggijoch. It’s maintained by the QParks crew, who are responsible for some of Europe’s finest freestyle arenas – including the competition-standard park at Dachstein and the DC Area 43 Park in Kitzbuhel. You enter the park at the top of the Hainbachkar chair. Bear right to access the proline or keep straight and limber up on the rollers or the easy boxes before entering the main part of the park. When this is in full force, there is a kicker line with three tables each of which has an easy and intermediate takeoff. There’s also a separate rail line with the odd box thrown in around the area. The pro-area is a lot more innovative with a monster kicker line and a technical jib line.
[part title='Davos, Switzerland']
Located on the Jakobshorn at 2300m, The Jatz Park has plenty of snow to play with. They’ve crammed quite a lot of features into the small area, but things never feel too hectic. There are four different kicker lines: a beginner line featuring 4m and 6m kickers and four box jibs; a medium line featuring a tractor tyre bonk, three 8-10m kickers and an 11m flat-down rail; a pro line going further with 10m and 14m kickers, and an 18m roller jump; and finally the jib line which boasts eight features including a 12m downrail, an 8m gas pipe and a spine. This west-facing park is served by its own drag lift, and the shaping team are always on it, making the best use of the conditions.
Located at the foot of the Jakobshorn, next to the essential Bolgen bar, is the pro-orientated park housing the giant half pipe and kickers. This is the park you’ll have seen in the 6* TTR O’Neil Evolution competition at the start of each year. It’s not the size of the park, but the size of the kickers here that matters – they’re insanely big, with tables from 18m to 25m.
Local riders include Markus Keller and Iouri Podladtchikov and the half-pipe air bag training sessions bring more pros out. The pipe is floodlit several times a week for some evening shred sessions, and it’s an essential visit – whether you’re hiking the pipe or just chilling out with a beer watching the locals.
[part title='Livigno, Italy']
The Italians take their freestyle (and shred fashion!) seriously, and Livigno has a long and well-deserved reputation for building good parks; it was host to the first three years of the Burton European Open. There are two main terrain parks competing on opposite sides of the valley.
On one side of the valley is the Mottolino Snowpark, served by the Trepalle chairlift. It usually features four long kicker lines for differing abilities, including a crazy pro line with its 25m booters, and each line has four hits. They don't build the superpipe anymore but the the top section features an airbag. A bit lower down is a separate jib area with various features ranging from easy to tech. On the other side of the valley is the Carosello 3000 terrain park. This 1km long park usually features three long lines of ten or so features. It is geared towards to the intermediate rider and mixes some interesting jib features with the kickers and they have an airbag as well. Running alongside this park is a fun little boardercross banked corner course, called the Boarderzoo. Apparently it’s really designed for kids, but that shouldn’t stop you getting stuck in!
Don’t forget that all parks require you to wear a helmet in Italy – no helmet and you won’t get far. If you don't have one, then pop into the chillout huts in the park and they'll lend you one usually in exchange for your passport.
[page title='Niseko, Japan']
The first park most riders come across in Niseko is the compact but well-shaped King Park set-up, located near the bottom of the gondola in Hirafu. Here you’ll find a simple but flowing series of features – once you get past the sheep-herding style drop-in that is. The jumps here are true-table style and vary in length from about 15 to 30ft. The jibs range from super-mellow ride-on boxes to roundbar down rails. Found on the other side of the trail is a small and fairly average halfpipe; good for first time riders.
Stomping Ground is Niseko’s premier park and pipe, and is found over in Hanazono. It begins with a FIS standard superpipe leading into two separate runs. The left trail leads down to the air bag – awesome for testing out any new inverts but not always open – followed by a fun little beginners’ park, which is serviced by its own magic carpet.
[part title='Ischgl, Austria']
Under the direction of Klaus Marko, The Playstation Vita Ischgl Snowpark continues to improve season on season. It is split into two sections and located on the Idalp plateau. The advanced main area features around 40 features, and unlike many parks the focus is more on booters than rails. It tends to feature a number of separate kicker lines - each with several launches - and a separate jib line. The airbag near the small chill-out hut is now a permanent fixture and the park is roped off to ensure that no visitors drift in to use it as a vantage point. All these features are shaped daily and built to a particularly high standard, with good steep landings, so there’s little chance of landing flat.
The easier section is served by the Velillbahn and features a long twin line with 15 or so features, which are well spaced giving you plenty of time to set yourself up for the next hit. A further park over in Samnaun is in stark contrast to the Ischgl park – to the point where it can actually be pretty dangerous. The sign-posting is bad, and the landings have ruts in them that never seem to get filled in. The park in nearby Kappl deserves a good mention as it is maintained by the same Ischgl crew, and very well kept. Go mid-week and you'll be the only person using it - the perfect place for beginner/intermediates to practice in an unintimidating environment. A further small park operates in Galtür.
[part title='Laax, Switzerland']
Without question the best destination for freestylers to head to in Switzerland, Laax has four parks and a superpipe all located around the Crap Sogn Gion which adds up to about 80 individual features.
A completely new terrain park called Ils Plauns was built last season between the Crap Sogn Gion and the new six seater chairlift Alp Dado. It was here that the Burton European open slopestyle event was moved, and its more sunny, open aspect proved a massive success. With a beginner, medium and pro line, the new park offers a huge and varied playground for each level. There's a good selection of easy kickers, plenty of entry-level rails and boxes and now a permanent airbag to try your inverts on. There's also a boardercross park to satisfy you and your mates' competitive streak.
Right below the summit restaurant is the 'No Name' park, which is dominated by the legendary Laax Superpipe - an intimidating, 140m-long beast that gives some of the pro's jitters, never mind joe public. They tend to stuff this dug-out earth shaped beauty full of the last remaining snow at the end of the season, so they can get it up and running almost as soon as the resort opens.
On one side of the pipe is the Swatch 'Shoot-my-Ride' with three kickers and a few rails, while the other side is more jib focused with 15 or so features. Continuing down from the No Name park, piste 60 (the Crap Sogn Gion-Curnius piste) is a dedicated freestyle run, with 30 or so obstacles and kickers dotted along it's 1km length. You can also cut across to meet this from the newest Ils Plauns park; either way you're looking at the closest European equivalent to the long park runs of California, which you can lap to your heart's content.
As if all this wasn't enough, Laax also offers Europe's first indoor freestyle academy, which includes a snowflex jump into a foam pit, a skatepark, and trampolines for practising inverts. Perfect for those bad weather days or evenings. An initial introductory course is mandatory.