Snowboard Terrain Parks Are Boring. Let's do better.

From “built for television” contest parks to “a way to keep the kids entertained” afterthoughts, every operation has some sort of terrain park. So why is it that so many are just…boring?
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Snowboard Terrain Parks Are Boring. Let's do better.

Terrain parks can be so much more than just rails and jumps of various sizes and consequences. They can, and sometimes are, places that encourage the flow and creativity so loved by all mountain freestyle snowboarders and skiers. Any kid that’s drawing terrain parks in class right now can do a better job than most of what’s out there. Which is exactly why places like Sierra at Tahoe allow people to submit designs to be built. While Sierra at Tahoe builds great parks without it, this is also a great way to create buy in to your snowsports area.

Rails and jumps in a line have their place. Pair them with a rope tow and it’s the fastest way to learn new tricks. A good rope tow can let you get thirty attempts on a single feature in an hour, allowing people to more quickly become comfortable and relaxed on steel. And with creative features these parks can still be incredibly fun.  But having to ride in a line from feature to feature inhibits stylistic expression. So while these places are great for learning, they tend to become stale to all but rail rats, park kids, and beginners able to use them for the first time.

But there are tens of thousands more freestyle and freeride snowboarders and skiers than dedicated park riders. The majority of them retired park rats themselves who still drop into the park on occasion. Instead of being restricted by the design of the park, you’ll find them dropping cliffs, jibbing trees, and launching side-hits. And on powder days you’ll usually find the park crews out doing the exact same thing. But if you build a terrain park where all-mountain freestyle riders can feel the same freedom as when they’re free-riding, terrain parks will get more use. Bowl parks are a great example of this.  

Holy Bowly has been going off for almost two decades now, and is one of the more anticipated events of the season. Without any mandatory massive features and unlimited ways to ride their builds, it feels relatable to everyone. Professional contest lines like X-Games often remain open all season, with little changes made. Yet Holy Bowly is the only one that people seem to travel to not to watch, but to be able to ride the build. And if the media put as much interest in those events, they could draw the same crowd as the OG events. Why major production television doesn't pay attention to these is anyones guess.

Timberline Lodge, known for being open for snowsports in the summer, is also known for their terrain parks. With several parks to choose from, they make sure to include a bowl park each year. Deep into June of 2022, Timberline kept a bowl park up and running open to the general public. The rave reviews it got are well deserved, and an example of why they get to host Holy Bowly every few years. The Magic Mile Bowl Park was one of the most fun parks I’ve ridden in years. It's also the kin of flow, and low consequence features that almost anyone would feel comfortable riding.

While Timberline might have several hundred meters of terrain to play with, this sort of space isn’t strictly necessary. Pine Knob in East Michigan builds one of the best skate influence style parks in the country. With only 800 feet of length, they fit 40+ features of skate flow onto a single rope tow run.  Instead of feeling crowded, they design the flow of the park so that it can be ridden any way you want; the only limitation being your imagination and skill. And if you want to know just how popular it is, their terrain park instagram has a larger following than the snowsports area itself. It also looks like the kind of place where you could host a weekly adult freestyle league like racers get with NASTAR. 

As jumps get bigger, and rails harbor higher consequence, fewer people ride them. It's not worth the risk of injury and pain created by over-shooting a 40 foot jump or blowing up your knee because you came off early on a closeout rail. While the tricks become more impressive with more airtime, it's simply out of reach for most customers. The feeling of fear that these parks inspire is why so many resorts have been taking out superpipes for the last ten years. Why build something that just a few are able to ride? Especially when most of those people aren't even paying customers, but profressionals on comp passes or employees.

This still doesn't explain the unfortunate state of the terrain parks at some smaller areas. So often they simply appear to be little more than a way to have the orange oval on the trail map. We've all seen those parks, the ones where the lips aren't square and the jumps look outright dangerous. Okay, snow making is expensive and not all groomers care about those damn kids and their terrain parks. But there are most likely employees already on staff who would help maintain these parks, not only for their enjoyment but also the safety of guests. If you're going to have a park, it might as well be made and advertised well. Whether this is though getting customer buy-in by letting them be involved in the build design or just promoting it on social media, it will bring in customers.

Sure, if you live somewhere with a couple hundred acres of terrain, great terrain parks might not be as important. They come online about the same time as natural terrain, depending on snowmaking capacity. But they are more consistent, last longer in the spring, and still allow a fluidity that you can’t get in the woods. Particularly once the rocks show back up. But not everywhere has several hundred acres of terrain to ride, and not everyone wants to go huck cliffs and jib trees. And typically, snowboarders certainly don't want to go bash gates.

With the popularity of "extreme sports" waning, it is perhaps time to show a more complete picture of what snowboarding is. More importantly, it's time for snowsports operations to embrace them as well. Just because superpipes and professional jump lines don't get attention anymore, doesn't mean kickass parks won't bring in revenue. The money just needs to be invest in the right type of terrain parks instead of what the television and classical park riders say is popular.