Contrary to what some people believe, there are some banging snowparks in Europe. The Americans have some park beasts, the bastards, but in all honesty as OnTheSnow embarked on this latest of projects to bring you the best snowparks on our fine continent we were spoilt for choice. The other thing we considered was that the best snowpark means something different depending on who you are and what you’re after. No good going to LAAX if you’re a beginner, not that we would ever turn down the chance, no siree – LAAX actually is one of our favourite resorts. But if you’re serious about becoming a park rat then best to head to something less intimidating and with fewer queues.
Here is our pick of the best snowparks in Europe.
The favoured resort of those in the know, Laax is arguably home to some of the most stylish parks in Europe.
To summarise its greatness: there are four snowparks, a superpipe, a minipipe, a freestyle piste, and an indoor freestyle training centre fully equipped with jumps, rails, and ramps covered in snowflex. There are foam pits to dive into and trampolines for practicing inverts. The newest park, Ils Plauns, was completed last year and is located between the Crap Sogn Gion and the new six-seater chairlift Alp Dado. The park was built with intermediate and advanced levels in mind but it’s extensive and contains a wide variety of obstacles. There are five kickers and 15 obstacles over a distance of 550m with kickers, rails, and boxes varying in size from the not-too-intimidating to the supersized.
At the Snowpark NoName, 350m long with two kickers and six obstacles, you can drop into Europe’s largest halfpipe. And at Snowpark Curnius you’ll encounter 25 obstacles and the new pro kicker line along 1000m of pure freestyle. There’s a beginners park naturally which features five kickers and 10 obstacles over a distance of 300m but the popularity of Laax might mean you’re sharing with more shredders than you’d want at this point.
OnTheSnow asked Head of LAAX Snowparks, Roger Heid, about what draws people to the resort. He said, “It was always about freestyle in LAAX: the spirit, the people, the riding . . . We love to constantly invent new things that are fun for people.”
Freestyle snowboarder at the Brits 2012 in Laax
Mayrhofen manages to pull off chill-out and party vibes in a lovely rustic village which has stayed true, at least in terms of architecture, to its traditional Tyrolean roots. It’s also garnered a bit of a reputation of late as being the hottest snowpark in Austria. The hype is down at the Vans Penken Park which, served by the ultra-fast Sun-jet chairlift, stands at 2,100m and covers six different areas over an entire side of Action Mountain. Those areas are Kids Park, Medium Area, Advanced Area, Pro Area and Fun Area – that’s a lot of jibs, boxes, tubes and rails on which to measure your progress. Popular park features include the huge rainbow box, the wall ride at the end of the park, the multi jib beastbox and a rail garden which comes loaded with double kinks, gas pipes, and a zig-zar bar.
Vans Penken Park, Mayrhofen
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Part of glitzy St. Moritz, Corviglia and Corvatsch are two top-notch destinations for freestyle riding. By the Muressan T-bar is Corviglia Park complete with a sweet quarter-pipe and a 12m table-top jump. The pipe is kept in tip-top condition using a Pipe Dragon which, as the name suggests, is rather swish grooming equipment and ensures that the sides are kept uber smooth. There are some small hits for intermediate riders and an easy-ish 400m line but overall this is a park, and resort for that matter, for experienced skiers and snowboarders.
Located on the Murtel middle station is the Freestyle Park on Corvatsch. There is a beginner’s line featuring four kickers and four jibs, a medium line with three kickers and sixteen jibs, and a pro line with three kickers. The park also has a 7m high halfpipe, an air bag and boardercross.
Thrilling big-air contest held on Corwatsch, Engadin St. Moritz.
The biggest resort in Southern Europe and the only resort in the Pyrenees with four snowparks and a Freestyle Academy, Grandvalira has seen major improvements, to the tune of six million euros, over the last couple of years.
The largest of the snowparks is El Tarter and whilst it does offer serious riders an extensive play-area there’s also something to suit riders of all levels. There’s a halfpipe, wall ride, 10m spine, big-air ramps, huge gap jump and air bag; there are mid-height tables, an S-wave box, C-boxes and more. Novices can get a feel for the park in the beginners’ area filled with low rails, short flat boxes and training jumps. For developing style go to Snowpark Xavi at Grandvalira-Grau Roig which accommodates beginners as much as it does intermediate riders.
El Tarter Snowpark, Grandvalira.
Crowned Best European Resort 2012 at the World Snow Awards, and the winner of numerous other awards, Livigno is also home to two exceptionally good snowparks. The resort was amongst the first in Europe to concentrate its efforts on developing creative spaces for freestylers and was host to the Burton European Open for its first three years. The main park is the Mottolino Snow Park which normally features four long kicker lines for varying abilities and a difficult pro line with 25m kickers. All of the jumps and lines are back for the 2013/14 season with some added extras. There is more choice for beginners on the S Line who are being treated to level-appropriate rails and boxes. The M Line, designed for more experienced riders, features new jumps, rails and boxes. The L Line, for experienced shredders, features five jumps of varying sizes rising from 12 to a maximum of 16 metres. The fourth line, the XL features four jumps in sequence that begin at 18m and culminate in a 25m booter. To get to this level takes a lot of practise and luckily Mottolino has just the resources.
On the other side of the valley is the Carosello 3000 which is more suited to intermediate/good riders. It’s a 1km long park which normally features three long lines. It comes with loads of cool jibs, jumps, and an airbag to practise landings. Next to the Carosello is the Boarderzoo – a boardercross course meant for groms but which adults can partake in too. Better your dignity than physical pain.
Jibbing in Livigno, Italy
Nordpark’s Skylinepark belongs to a small club of snowparks that have earned the title “in-city”. This means two things: one, you can reach the park in 20 minutes by hopping aboard the Innsbruck Nordkettenbahn cable car directly from Innsbruck city centre and that means combining the best of two worlds: freestyling by day and checking out the city by night. And two, a rather stunning view over the spires of Innsbruck. The park itself is compact but designed in a way that makes optimal use of space; there’s a superpipe measuring 120m and standing 5.5m tall, a quarter-pipe, and kickers ranging between 5-15m which are very well maintained. Also worth your time are Friday night sessions when the park is floodlit and the music is blaring.
Copyright: Marc van Dijk
Avoriaz has a Burton Stash. What’s that? As if you didn’t already know, but well in case you didn’t, The Stash is a park concept that was created by Jake Burton and rider Craig Kelly. Their motto, “the woods are the goods” is about features or elements or jibs consisting of snow and wood – natural and basic, basically. It’s not about flawless slopes or perfect obstacles, but, naturally, all of the materials are smoothed off to make sure they’re safe for jibbing. At the Stash in Avoriaz there are lines, graded 1-3, to suit all levels of ability and with multiple hits from top to bottom.
For kids there’s the dedicated Burton Kids Parkway where you’ll find mini versions of rails, boxes and a starter kicker line. Pro shredders can show off on the red (L) and black (XL) kickers at advanced park Arare which has hosted the Butcher, the Nixon Jib Fest, and the O’Neill Pro Freestyle to name but a few. Everyone can head to the Chapelle Park which has three kicker lines and jibs-a-plenty; everything is reshaped daily and the whole park has a good vibe about it.
Avoriaz has also transformed its halfpipe into a superpipe which we think is super great – find it in the centre of Avoriaz complete with its own poma and everything.
Avoriaz's ecological snowpark The Stash, France
The main draw at Flachau is the incredible snowpark setup. Absolut Park, which at a length of over 1.5km, is the longest park in Austria, and is split into four different sections which are filled with a plethora of obstacles – all of which can be used in one line. So that things flow smoothly the entire run starts and ends at the Absolut Shuttle lift.
Last season (2012/13) a new five kicker line was added enabling riders to catch air ‘til their hearts’ content. The superpipe which is the same size as the one used in the X Games is renowned and is kept in immaculate condition. At the bottom of the snowpark, in addition to the Chillhouse where there’s a climbing wall and a skate ramp, is a beginner area with less intimidating kickers, rails, and boxes. And of course, the only other Burton Stash in Europe is at the Absolut Park and it is awesome.
Absolut Park, Flachau.
Whilst all top snowparks will cater for all skills you have to wonder whether the big resorts will give you the most bang for your buck. Once you take into account crowds, queues, and the bout of shyness brought on by the extreme talent on show, it might be a better plan to visit a smaller less busy resort.
A sweet park with a creative set-up, the Crystal Ground Snowpark is brilliant for beginners, young and old, who want to try some jumps and ride some obstacles. The snowpark is located in the Kleinwalseral valley, and is served by the Kessler Lift. After a challenging day of training, riders can chill out over at the sun deck at the bottom of the park.
Crystal Ground Park, Kleinwalsertal.
One destination that does scenery so good it’s ridiculous is the White Elements Pro Park in Grindelwald. The snowpark, approximately 800m in length, is served by the Bärgelegg lift and is set against the spectacular backdrop of the north face of the Eiger. For the 2013/14 season the park has been redesigned to allow riders to make use of the smorgasbord of obstacles from start to finish. There are 25m long booters as well as rails and bonks whilst a small jib area for kids in front of the Bärgelegg hut is currently in the works. For a ski-cross course suitable for all ability levels – just dodge what you don’t fancy – head for the Schilt chairlift.
White Elements Pro Park, in front of the north face of the Eiger, Grindelwald
What’s that then?
Freestyle lexicon can be confusing. Read on to crack the code:
Jump: Anything from 2-30m from take-off to landing, sometimes built up using snow or, in larger cases, earthworks covered in snow. Regularly called kickers, booters (if they’re really big) or "cheese wedges".
Jibs: Riding on something other than snow, we mean, tree stumps, picnic tables, handrails, roofs, benches, bins – literally anything. Can also be used as a verb or as an adjective, e.g. she jibs or he is a pro-jibber.
Rails: Riders and skiers like to slide and rails were made for sliding.
Funbox: A metal or plastic box that is lower on the ground and as such is an easier version of a handrail.
Rainbow Box: A box with a hump like a rainbow. Can also refer to a rail.
S-Box: Shaped like an S.
Kink: A sudden change in angle, e.g. a rail which is flat, is bent down, and then flat again is a kink. Can also refer to a box.
Picnic table or bench: Self-explanatory; good for sliding.
Table-top Jump: The flat part of the jump between take-off and landing.
Gap: A jump with a gap between take-off and landing, as opposed to a table-top.
Halfpipe: Two concave walls facing each other, looks like half a cylinder, each wall has a vertical lip.
Quarterpipe: One side of a halfpipe.
Superpipe: Big halfpipe, over 16ft tall but usually in the region of 20ft, and requiring a lot of maintenance.