Top 10: Snow Parks

Ms Buaas styling out in Keystone (scroll down to 6 for the lowdown on their park)

Even if getting big air involves you taking off, passing out through fright, and still being in the air when you regain consciousness this guide is for you. Ten parks with thrills for even the most timid of snowboards, because as the cherry-wine-drinking philosopher Jermaine Stewart once said, “We don’t have to put our impact shorts on, to have a good time…” Or something like that. Check out our serious recommendations plus funny ‘What Voice-Over Man Would Say’ comments below!

Words by Chris Moran

1. Flachauwinkl, Austria

Hard to pronounce, even harder to get to, but once you’ve been “wink”ed, it’s love at first sight.

What we say: With five-awesome lines, a full-time superpipe, and a slogan that reads “Cowboys Ride It Hard” one might imagine this is dick-swinging country. But oh no, those god-darned Austrians have also crammed in enough easy lines to make this one of the raddest destinations in the Alps for park rats.

Why so good: That Burton put a Stash park here (think Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall demolishing River Cottage’s lean-to in order to build a funpark), means Flach’s eco-shred credentials are bang on too.

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2. Mammoth Mountain, California, USA

Big, buxom, and (er..) beautiful? This Californian knows how to make the most of her assets.

What we say: Don’t be fooled by the fact that everything’s painted pink: this is no Malibu Barbie hangout. With nine parks and three pipes in all, Mammoth has the full terror spectrum on lockdown. Yes there are some gentle jumps for people who like ice cream and picnics (and maybe pottering around in gardening centres), but there’s also kickers here that give hardened pro riders nightmares. But as that well-known snowboarding philosopher Nietzsche once said, “If I don’t look into the gap jump abyss, then the gap jump abyss won’t look into me,” before pulling a sweet tindy straight into Mammoth’s airbag..

Why so good: “We’ve reached into the nooks and crannies of our massive mountain,” says the website seductively, “Think of them as secret stashes for beginners.” As we always advise, wear protection out there people, it’s a dangerous world…

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3. Nordpark (above Innsbruck), Austria

Great views, easy to get to, loaded with famous pros and next door to a hedonistic university town. Pack your best Olivia Newton-John outfit as this is about to get physical.

What we say: You probably wouldn’t want to rock up here for your first ever taste of freestyle snowboarding, but for those who know their elbow pad from their coccyx protector this is Europe’s finest posing arena. Take the Jetsons-inspired cablecar from Innsbruck town centre (designed by Zaha Hadid no less), and hit the superpipe or four-kicker lines while scanning perhaps the finest view in all snowparks.

Why so good: If you like to party (and, ahem, who doesn’t?), the park is floodlit, meaning you can have the mother of all lie-ins and still have time for some shredding.

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4. Laax, Switzerland

It doesn’t have a name, but if it did it’d probably be the Crap Park. Which it isn’t, Crap is just the name of the mountain here.

What we say: From the Bond-villain-esque cable car station halfway up the hill, the Laax park spans in every direction like a gigantic fun tarantula. So easy does the Laax park introduce debutantes to the world of rail sliding and kicker riding that it might as well advertise itself as a finishing school. “Rail, won’t you meet Miss Bumcrack, of the Devonshire Bumcracks?” And if all that wasn’t enough, the park also goes by its mysterious “no name” moniker, like a snowy Scarlet Pimpernel (if the Scarlet Pimpernel didn’t have a name). Stay with us.

Why so good: Add in the new foampit-tastic Freestyle Academy, and the only way you feasibly could spend more holiday time upside down would be to get kidnapped by Columbian terrorists.

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5. Vail, Colorado, USA

This old-timer might be grey-haired, but it still packs an animal magnetism and charm that’s impossible to resist. The George Clooney of funparks then.

What we say: Vail may have opened the first ever funpark back in 1991, but it hasn’t rested on its laurels since. Shaped by a veritable army of snow-movers, Vail’s two parks have more jumps than most of France’s snow parks put togther. The classic Golden Peak Terrain Park has everything from one-foot learner jumps to Olympic-standard pipes, while the dubiously-named “Bwana Park” (let’s not speculate on the origins of that name eh?) is Vail’s version of the Stash.

Why so good: Any resort that opens a new area called “One Ski Hill” clearly has its finger on the pulse of what the yoof want. Whether that’s appropriate or not is another matter altogether Clooney, you coffee-quaffing, expensive watch-wearing devil you. And don’t think flashing that smile will get you out of this one. /swoon/

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6. Keystone, Colorado, USA

What Voice-Over Man Would Say: Cowboys, aliens, Little Miss characters – it’s your little brother’s bedroom come to life as a ski resort. Without the pong let’s hope.

What we say: Keystone undoubtedly wins the “least-time-spent-deliberating-over-their-slogan” award (“Keystone, It’s All Here”) but maybe they used those hours more productively at the Area 51 Terrain Park, a beautifully-maintained bit of snow sculpting that recently played host to Snowboarder Magazine’s fantastic Miss Superpark contest. Regular visitors get much the same treatment – crisp, architecturally-superb jumps, shaped every night by aliens (if the park’s name is to be taken literally).

Why so good: It IS all here: graffiti-bedecked rails and boxes, corduroy-caressed kickers and even a couple of totem poles. How? Oh don’t go there.

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7. The Portes du Soleil parks on the Swiss/French border

French and Swiss, rich and classy, Toblerone with Reblochon, precision engineering with stoner-slackness, this is mix and match at its finest.

What we say: As befits the self-styled “biggest ski area in the world” (it’s not, but let’s gloss over that for now), the Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil area has not one but four funparks: each with its own character and ambience. The Snowpark Avoriaz has a superpipe, a boardercross course and the Burton Stash run (again, think twigs, home-crocheted beanies and jazz cigarettes); the Snowpark Les Gets has the rails; Châtel’s Smooth Park has Barry White-sized lumps to lovingly caress; and the legendary Les Crosets park (aka the Superpark), has the most advanced, and also the most beginner friendly-jumps, in the whole region. Funny how that works out eh?

Why so good: Let’s face facts here: sack off the French parks (unless you like badly-maintained jumps and the faint the smell of weed coming from the maintenance sheds), and head straight for the Swiss side. Where some, ahem, gold awaits.

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8. Mayrhofen, Austria

SO hot right now, this park could take a crap, wrap it in tin foil and sell it to Jake Burton as a keyfob.

What we say: When it comes to snowboarding’s most exclusive VIP areas, the Vans Penken Park is the velvet rope to be seen behind in winter 2012. There’s a comfy four-seater chairlift right overhead (so you can scope the jumps, soak up some rays, AND film your mates); there are five-lines through the park, perfect whether you’re an aerial debutante, or an uber-pro with an airbag for an arse. And as the park is shaped daily – by a Teutonic crew of efficient snow-shaping robots – it’s virtually guaranteed to look exactly the same as in the brochure *Cough, splutter, no-one mention any French resorts* Oh and it’s open to everyone too. And it’s big. And there’s a baby park next to it (NB it’s not actually for babies).

Why so good: Did we mention there’s hot chocolate in the cafe at the bottom so perfect you’d have thought Errol Brown had cooked it over his “stove of love”? And with spag bol coming in at just €6 a plate, this place is literally Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven’s Place On Earth.

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9. Whistler, Canada

This park reinvents itself every year, like Madonna shedding her skin.

What we say: For funpark lovers, a visit to the Whistler website is an invitation to hold one’s face and mouth “OMG”. With eight parks (The Global Park XL, the Mini Park, the Nintendo Terrain Park, The Highest Level Park, the Snow Cross Track, the Habitat Park, the Terrain Garden and the Cougar Park) boasting some 200-plus obstacles and kickers, maintained by an army of self-styled “park buffers.” That’s more grooming than Shane Warne and Liz Hurley put together.

Why so good: Brushing aside an image of the Cougar Park (perhaps in which older, skiers entice the younger snowboarders into the pine forests with a flash of their, ahem, “fur coats”), Whistler is clearly a mighty prospect for those who want to improve their jibbing powers.

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10. Breckenridge, Colorado

Looking for a wingman? If Breck’s Freeway Park doesn’t float your F16 you might as well be “flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong”. Google Top Gun if that isn’t making sense.

What we say: Flachauwinkl’s park might use cowboy imagery, but Breck is the real deal, T-bone steak eating contests and all. And yet the vibe they choose to go with is much more Top Gun, with the Freeway Park evoking Tom Cruise quotes by the dozen. And yes, their kickers are of an easy stature too. Add in the Gold King Pipe, Park Lane, Bonanza, Eldorado and Trygves parks and there’s something to “take the breath away” from every standard of rider.

Why so good: Nothing beats the smell of piste-basher diesel in the mornings, and if you’re looking for a pristine, groomed park, then there’s more corduroy on show here than a National Union Of Teachers’ conference.

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