Drop In and Huck Yourself HUGE!

In just the past 30 years, terrain parks have grown to keep up with the sport of snowboarding, and Winter Park has been on that cutting edge. When snowboarding first came onto the resort scene in the 1980s, terrain parks were non-existent, and even small lips and bumps were “safely” mowed down by patrol to keep anyone from attempting a jump.

Then came the freestyle revolution of the 90s, fueled by the X Games and major-media coverage. Larger resorts began to compete with each over who had the biggest kickers, the gnarliest rails, and the best halfpipe; their view of freestyle features began to change from liabilities to cash cow$. Terrain park specialists emerged from within the snowboard ranks to become the mad scientists of a whole new profession: creating features and courses that were huge and exciting, but relatively safe. These experts were eventually paid handsomely to design the finest parks, pipes, and Olympic freestyle venues. Snow-cat and grooming also helped parks explode in popularity by creating stunning 80-foot jumps and 22-foot “Superpipes.”

Avoiding the Overhype

Winter Park Resort began emerging as a freestyle powerhouse about 13 years ago, coming out of nowhere to ranking in the top ten for parks in the U.S. But the competition has changed somewhat since then.

Sure, there are still the Super-Mega-Parks – the Vails, the Brecks, the Park Cities – and then there are the parks that are just plain fun, where the features rarely have lines and the atmosphere is chill and unintimidating. Winter Park’s terrain parks are designed to take you step-by-step from Goob Stage to Dark Territory, if your knees are solid and you want it bad enough. Or they can take you to whatever level electrifies you as you sail downhill.“We take a different approach to creating our parks,” explains Bob Holme. “We’re designing parks with flow and fun instead of focusing entirely on gnarly.”

Holme manages the resort’s seven winter terrain parks; the summer Trestle Bike Park; the strategic alliances and corporate sponsorships; and the Colorado Freeride Festival (the nation’s largest freeride mountain bike festival that has put Winter Park on the map for freestyle mountain biking).

A Colorado native, he’s been instrumental in taking the resort’s freestyle program – summer and winter – to a whole new level. Holme combined his athletic background with marketing and finance degrees plus 27 years of snowboarding into a unique job. A former Nordic Olympic ski jumper and stuntman, he took on leadership of the resorts’ parks with a vision of offering not only the biggest and the baddest, but also providing innovative pathways for progressing to that level.

Patience, Grasshoppah …

If there is one complaint at the Mega-Parks, it’s the crowdsbuttloads of them! There are entire ski schools of 6-year-olds trying their first jumps and rails, die-hard park rats flying down, and photographers all getting in your line or stopping in the most idiotic places!

You will see this circus in full-force on weekends in Ash Cat, Winter Park’s beginner/intermediate park off of Prospector Lift. If you’re a novice in the terrain park, wait, and pay your dues. While you’re waiting in line, watch other riders and notice their speed as they approach and the distance they cover on the landing. Smile, and don’t be in a hurry (i.e. don’t be a jerk).

Sure, you’ll have to wait in line as a dozen rugrats try their first rail … but then, think of the entertainment value! Warren Miller never had it so good! (And somehow these ankle-biters keep getting up with a smile on their face like one of those blowup clowns.) In Ash Cat, you’ll find rails that progress from wide, run-on boxes to flat-downs; and rollers that lead to jumps that lead to small kickers. When you’ve mastered Ash Cat, you’re ready to move up to Rerailer, located between Discovery Lift and Snoasis.

Rerailer has good size booters with gaps that need to be cleared to land safely. If you don’t go fast enough on the take-off, this will cause problems. You could land on the flat gap, which will jar your teeth and joints, but won’t kill you. Or you could land on the “knuckle,” which, speaking as someone who has done this and torn a rotator cuff, should be avoided. If you’re going to do it, go for it! The consequences of not going for it are much worse! The rails in Rerailer are a blast – everything from ride-ons to s-curves to jump-ons – there’s a rail for every level in your group here.

Steppin’ It Up

Which brings us to Rail Yard – Winter Park’s premier advanced park. The Rail Yard is actually four parks in one: Upper Rail Yard (mostly advanced rails and cannons); the halfpipe; lower Rail Yard (more creative hits and rails including a looooong flat-down-flat-down-flat-down-etc.); and Dark Territory (the BIG 40-to-60-foot booters). Rail Yard is designed to allow the advanced rider a smooth descent of Winter Park Mountain through a well-planned and maintained park with surprising features like mushroom or turtle “jibbables.”

Rail Yard provides the advanced rider, who has exceptional skills and coaching, a park that will help him/her transition into a pro. The Winter Park Ski and Snowboard Teams have also helped out in that regard, churning out local stars like Birk Irving and Lydia Silber, who are shooting for the Olympics.

Laying out and taking care of terrain parks may not seem like rocket science, but … it’s even more advanced than that! You have to understand physics to get the right steepness and trajectory on take-offs, and plan the perfect, steep landing that allows for enough run-out after the jump. It takes imagination and a connection to today’s youth to keep a park fresh with new, fun features like A Horse Named Kid; it takes long hours of hard work from the resort’s terrain park crew to keep each take-off and landing “dialed” while maintaining the mellow vibe. The Park Side’s terrain-park-goers are (usually) polite and respectful. They cheer on little dudes, and (usually) don’t snake the line.

But that kind of self-policing didn’t happen by accident. In keeping with the railroad theme of Winter Park’s terrain parks, Dark Territory requires that a skier/rider understand the basic terrain park code of respect – basic freestyle park manners, if you will. (A Dark Territory was an area along the railroad system ruled by strict guidelines of conduct, etiquette, and honor. When the rules were not followed, derailments and head-on collisions happened.) The Dark Territory pass can be acquired for free in the pass office simply by watching a short video and signing a waiver. (Under 18 must have a parent on-site to sign.)

Deckchair View

The safest way to enjoy the freestyle action in Dark Territory is from the deck of Snoasis with a beer in your hand. You can always progress a little each time you hit the hill, but, let’s be honest, only a few of us were meant for 60-foot booters. And that’s what DT is – built for the blessed few who are at that level; and visible for all to see what the top up-and-coming skiers and riders are pulling off these days.

If you venture into the parks, Don’t Be That Guy That:

  • Stands on/near the landing, taking pictures – totally unaware of the uphill traffic.
  • Wrecks on a jump or rail, and lies there spouting drama instead of getting out of the way. Unless you’re unconscious or seriously injured, crawl (with all your gear) to safety or get someone to flag the uphill jumpers.
  • Takes little kids in the big parks. Sure, it’s fun for kids to see it all up close, but it’s just not that safe (unless that little puke happens to be a Certified Freestyle Badass, where, in that case, the grommet is welcome.)
  • Does jumps off the sides of take-offs. Those take-offs are built to perfection, and if they keep getting clipped from the side, they require more maintenance.
  • Tries to get up-close shots with a pocket camera. Stand a good distance away and use a telephoto. Or better yet, put a GoPro on your helmet and do it yourself.
  • Stops in the middle of the halfpipe to readjust a mitten or check a phone. Get in, get out, Bro. Don’t mess up the rhythm of the people behind you.
  • Loudly drops the F Bomb in the park and the lift line. Come on, dude. There’s little kids everywhere! Buy a Thesaurus and learn some new words.
  • Has a bad case of “Plumber’s Crack” every time he/she goes for a grab. Have a little class out there, ok?

Cindy is a writer and photographer who has lived at the top of the Rockies for over three decades. She was the USASA Overall National Snowboarding Champion for many consecutive years with gold medals in Boardercross, Slopestyle, Superpipe, Giant Slalom and Slalom.