For this month’s spot check, we set our Spanish editor the difficult task of visiting all the snowparks in France and Spain so that he could get of out the house and reveal some of these countries’ best playgrounds. Along his way, he uncovered some true masterpieces, one or two disasters, and even a few imaginary parks that only existed in the minds of the resorts that advertised them. In fact, if there’s one word that describes snowparks in Europe compared to the rest of the world, it’s ‘inconsistency’. The quality of snowboard parks varies hugely depending on where you go and, subsequently, the journey turned into something like the quest for the Holy Grail of freestyle snowboarding.
When editor-in-chief Danny Burrows sent me an e-mail asking me to come up with a piece on the three best snowboard parks in France and Spain, I was slightly overwhelmed with the size of the task. Not only would I have to equal the very comprehensive guide put out by Klaus Marco of snow-parks.com (who supplied info for the previous three issues), but decide on a top three.
Spain is often (unfairly) referred to as the third world of snowboarding in Europe, but when it comes to snowparks, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Certain resorts have been making more of an effort (namely Sierra Nevada) but unfortunately nothing comes close to the top three I will be reviewing here. Despite Gerard Freixes’ Snowpark Division, Nicolas Watier’s H.O.5.park and the Burillo brothers’ Playground (handrail shapers) doing their best to improve the situation, resorts’ attitude have remained stuck in the past and Spain remains the ghetto of European snowboard parks. This left me no choice but to head for French snowparks in the Alps and Pyrenees, which are far superior.
France is the biggest snowboard market in Europe, according to some. Perhaps, but when it comes to parks, it’s also home to some of Europe’s worst excuses for a snowboard park. We know that there are more than 90 active parks in the whole of France and apparently more than 200 in the whole of the Alps. But these figures should probably be taken with a pinch of salt, even if the best parks in Europe are driven by a desire to do things properly and push European snowboarding to the forefront of the international scene (Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Angles, Porté Puymorens, Saint Lary, Barèges…). Here we are restricted to presenting just three: Les 2 Alps, Avoriaz and Les 7 Laux. Some of the smaller parks are run by teams whose terrain and shaping knowledge is easily on a par with the big three. Unfortunately (and I’m thinking of Snowpark Division here but they aren’t the only ones), they haven’t always got the means to build the park of their dreams.
What most people don’t know is that building and maintaining a snowpark can cost between €200,000 and €300,000 euros per season depending on the country. So you can understand certain resorts’ reluctance to get involved with such projects. Good infrastructures, organisation, economies of scale, and logistics are but some of the essential ingredients you need to build a park. Sounds more like hard work than snowboarding, eh? Well, there’s no question that building a snowpark to the level of the three you see here demands real expertise. That said, let’s not forget that those resorts that invest in snowparks correctly come away from it all with a good return on their investment.
Les 7 Laux, Isère, France
This is Nicolas Watier and H.O.5. Park’s baby. Les 7 Laux is the smallest of the three resorts, yet has become one of the most important freestyle scenes in the space of a few years. Along with Max Rehl (Absolutpark, Austria) and Gerard Freixes (Snowpark Division, Spain), Nicolas Watier is the only European pro snowboarder to be leading the way in snowpark development. The results are more than impressive, and during the 04/05 season, the 7 Laux park was the best in France, with both French and European pros and film crews making the resort their home. For 2006, the 7 Laux park will be well protected from the wind and placed between 1750m and 1950m to guarantee good snowfall. Its orientation means both early morning and late afternoon sunlight hits the park for perfect photoshoot conditions. Equipped with a ski lift, the park runs a full 700m and offers 5 different lines: a halfpipe (for advanced snowboarders and located at Prapoutel, 120m long, 20m wide, 6m high, maintained twice a week (maybe the only thing to let down this park)), one beginners’ 500m long boardercross (located with the rest of the park at Playnet), a jib course (six jibstacles) at the foot of the slope, an easy line for beginners with 12 hits lined up one after the other (six tables, two hips, four rails) and an advanced line made up of 10 obstacles: five tables, one big air, one hip, two spines and eight rails. The best things about this line are its combo modules (up to five possible combinations on each module – step-up, step-down, kicker, hip and transfer). The 7 Laux park equals some of the courses you get on PlayStation and offers one of the longest line of hits (pro or beginner) in Europe.
Name: H.O.5. Park, Les 7 Laux
Location: Les 7 Laux, Isère, France
Nearest airports: Lyon, Grenoble
Avoriaz, Haute Savoie, France
Was there ever any doubt this resort would make the cut? Avoriaz is the resort to have stood out most for its unconditional support for freestyle snowboarding in recent years. Nico Droz’s home resort has welcomed a long list of international competitions including the O’Neill Freestyle Pro, the Nixon Jibfest, the Fabulous Tournament, Billabong Juniors and VZ Trials, to name just a few. With such a record, it is no real surprise the resort has made the top three.
The Avoriaz park was one of the first in France, and its quality is faultless. In fact, for 05/06, the resort and Jean Noël Calvet are planning to build not one, not two, but three parks! The Arare Snowpark, at 2000m, with its 800m length containing three tables or five rails on a single run finished with a hip with wallride and one extra hit (step-up or uphill rail). If snow is good, they will also add more rails, a medium size pipe and a quarter. For those of you hungry for more, the Superpark of Les Crosets (superpark.ch) is two high-speed chairlifts away and enjoys more sunshine but is a lot lower down. The Avoriaz and Les Crosets shapers work together throughout the season to ensure the parks complement each other. The La Chapelle Snowpark (1850m – 500m long) is perfectly suited for kids and girlies with three different lines (three beginner kickers, three medium kickers or four handrails (box, 6m flat, box, C-rail)) plus moguls and a mini-BX for kids. The Superpipe (1800m – 140m long – 5.5 to 6m high – 18 to 23m wide) will be groomed daily with a Pipe Monster, and finally the Lindarets BX (1600m – 800 m long) is for intermediate riders. If things go as planned, the icing on the cake will be a line of tree trunk jibs in the Lindarets tree runs for advanced riders.
Location: Avoriaz, Haute Savoie, France
Nearest airports: Geneva, Lyon, Annecy
Les Deux Alpes, Isère
One of the first parks in France. For several years, Les Deux Alpes have always stood out for their summer snowpark on the glacier (the only resort to have one out of the top three). After a couple of bad winters and extremely hot summers, the glacier has lost some of its steepness, but Fouche (one of the best known shapers in France) continues to do the resort proud. In winter, the Deux Alpes park has the attraction of being very high up (2600m), ensuring good snow conditions throughout the season. The park is also one of the biggest and boasts a vast number of lines and hits shaped differently to those in Les 7 Laux and Avoriaz, the only defect being the park’s finishing touches which weren’t quite up to scratch in 04/05 according to a few pernickety riders.
The Beautiful Park, based at 2600m in La Toura, is very high so you’re pretty much guaranteed snow. The park covers nothing more and nothing less than 10 hectares and has three zones: 400m slopestyle (tables, quarter, hip, gap to rail, step-up…) serviced by the Toura and Lac Noir chairlift, a beginners’ zone and an intermediate zone. All rails are by MP Concept and include an S-rail (18 metres), down-flat-down, three boxes, fat ledge, wall, and a C-rail. The pipe is groomed daily and is 70m long, 4.5m high.
Obviously, Les 2 Alpes hasn’t forgotten the BX enthusiasts. Like in the other two resorts, regardless of your level, you are guaranteed to find obstacles that suit your riding.
You can download a 3D map of the snowpark at www.2alpes.com.
Where: Les Deux Alpes, Isère, France
Nearest airports: Lyon, Grenoble