While spring is not necessarily the time everyone and their mum think about snowboarding and snow shredding, it's high season for all park and trick aficionados as the long days of Spring riding in hoodies and slush are the perfect set up for stepping it up and filling your bag of tricks, or cautiously trying some first laps through the park and over the beginner obstacles. And in case our top ten list of amazing snowparks wasn't enough to still your shred hunger, here are some more!
Words by Matt Barr, photos by Camilla Stoddart, James North, and Carlos Blanchard
Imagine being a snowboarder back in the 70s and 80s. Banned from most resorts, ridiculed by the ski press and generally cast as the pariahs of the mountain. And in an era when the highback binding had yet to be invented, the idea of a dedicated fun park would have rightly been laughed out of town. Indeed, legend has it that the world’s first fun park sprang up in Tahoe at around this time, when local Mark Anolik found a solitary, shapeable hit behind the city dump.
How times have changed. Today, the fun park revolution is a massively important aspect of the ski industry. Resorts stand and fall on the quality of their parks, and the most progressive actively strive to attract riders by designing ever more snowboard friendly parks. For riders, it’s a great indicator of how snowboard-friendly a resort is, and for the resort it means more bums on chairlifts seats.
The brilliant thing about all this for snowboarders is the versatility they offer, especially in the spring. Sure, if the snow’s good early season most sane riders are off sniffing out the powder. But then the sun shines and the snow gets softer, park sessions are as good as it gets. You can challenge yourself, cheer you friends on, get a goggle tan and show off in the sun. Snowboarding in a nutshell? Damned right.
Best for intermediates – Snow Park, New Zealand
What’s it like? Like a laboratory for freestyle rats wanting to get good at snowboarding. Groms rub shoulders with pros like Shaun White, and there are easy lines for complete beginners. The café at the bottom is a great spot to grab a coffee and watch the show unfold.
Locals do: make friends with the staff at the park to get freebie cakes and find out where the parties are.
Locals don’t: ride the park without a pass. You’ll get caught, and it’s a big deal down under.
After riding wind down: All about either Queenstown or Wanaka (ba.com) – QT for the big local night out, Wanaka for some quieter beers by the lake.
How to get there: Bust out the credit card and pray you get upgraded – fly via Christchurch and Queenstown. Or straight to Ch-Ch and hire a wagon.
Best for pros – Mammoth Mountain, California, USA
Why’s it good? Mammoth is Mecca for snowboarders in love with jumps. It’s a proper snowboarding town, attracting pro riders, pro spotters and those keen on pushing their riding in an super-charged atmosphere.
What’s it like? Actually, Mammoth is surprisingly versatile, with good freeriding and trees. That said everybody is here for the fun parks. There are a whopping seven parks and three pipes, spread over 90 acres.
Locals do? Keep an eye on June Mountain at the weekend – it can be less frenzied than Mammoth.
Locals don’t? Ride badly. Everyone here is a ripper, and you can’t help but progress at a rate of knots.
After riding wind down? Take the skateboard and check out the Volcom Brothers Skatepark, built to honour the life of local legend Jeff Anderson.
How to get there? Most fly to LAX airport. From there, most people hire a car and drive, but be aware it is about a five hour drive.
Best for vibe – Moon Park, Meribel, France
Why’s it good? Roots reggae blaring from the PA? Check. Shirtless park crew smoking ‘erb while preparing a barbecue? Website consisting of quirky animated characters a’la David Vincent’s old board graphics? Welcome to Meribel’s Moon Park, the quintessential French fun park experience.
What’s it like? Ignore the braying hordes that give Meribel a bad name, the shred scene is tight and welcoming, and Moon Park is the focal point for the locals. Beginners will love the easy boardercross runs, while there are some big old kickers and rails for experienced riders.
Locals do? Hang out at the shed and plan the next enormo-kicker they’re going to build.
After riding wind down Meribel is as known for its raging nightlife scene as for the snowboarding. Try Evolution, Rond Point, Jack’s, Scott’s, The Pub, the Tav…
How to get there? Best bet is to fly to Geneva (easyjet.com) and hire a car from there. Transfer time is around 2.5 hours.
Best (tenuous) eco tie-in – The Stash, Avoriaz
Why’s it good? Yes, the green craze has spread to the snowboarding world, with Burton’s Stash project leading the way. They’re essentially parks with obstacles made entirely out of natural materials – wood, dirt and stones. So successful is the concept that there are now Stash runs in Northstar at Tahoe, Flachauwinkl, Killington and The Remarkables, as well as Avoriaz.
What’s it like? Endlessly imaginative. Wall rides, snow berms, stumps, rainbow log jibs, banks, wood boxes – there are obstacles for riders of every ability level here, and you’ll never tire of the sheer number of options.
Locals do? Stay in Morzine. The party scene is better, and it has more of a bustling vibe than Avoriaz.
Locals don’t? Rely on the Super Morzine lift to get up there. If there are huge queues (and there often are), head to Prodains for an alternative route up.
After riding wind down? Plenty in Morzine to keep you occupied – try the Mutzig in Bar Robinson, or head to the Cavern for a mellower vibe.
How to get there? Fly to Geneva, from there it’s a short hour’s drive to Morzine.
More info Check Burton’s brilliant website thestash.com. It has an interactive trail map with video footage of most of the mainobstacles.
Best for scenery – Nordpark, Austria
What’s it like? There’s a great scene here, as you might expect from Innsbruck, Europe’s snowboard hub. A twenty-minute ride on the new Hadid-designed link takes you from city to park, where you’ll find friendly, progressive locals and a huge array of kickers and rails.
Locals do? Head up after dark to take part in the evening sessions, and goggle at the view of Innsbruck’s lights. A sound-system and floodlights means it goes off.
Locals don’t? Drive up if they can help it. The transport links from the city are fantastic.
After riding wind down After an early finish, follow the locals to Fruchthof, on the same street as the Burton store. Curries, soups and other health foods for 6 euros a plate see it packed between 11.30 and 2pm every day.
How to get there? Fly direct to Innsbruck (easyjet.com). With ten other great resorts in or around Innsbruck, it’s a bit of a mystery why more riders aren’t eschewing France for Austria’s hotspot.
Five beginner park tips
* Learn the rules – Many good parks have a set of “rules" or guidelines that cover the basics. Familiarise yourself with them so you know you’re not going to be in everyone’s way.
* Start small – Check out the little rails, boxes and hips before flinging yourself off the Mega Roller.
Wear a lid – Hell, wear pads, wrist guards and a pillow down your trollies if it’ll help with confidence.
* Check the run-in speed – Getting your speed right before you hit a jump is critical. Too slow and you’ll land on the flat tabletop, too fast and you’ll overshoot the landing. To get it right, watch other people hit the jump first and see where they drop-in from.
* Watch and learn – The best way of learning in the park is to watch the experts. If you’re struggling with a trick, watch someone else do it better.