A good snowpark is a fickle fiend. For all of the glazed over press releases and websites talking about 'pure park perfection', they're actually talking about a snowpark that isn't shit and wasn't designed and built by an angry toddler with a set of crayons.
We've been lagging behind the snowparks in North America for a while now, but we're starting to get better at building good snowparks. The difficulty with parks is the massive expense they are to the resort. Whilst designing a good, creative snowpark is difficult, the real challenge lies in maintaining it everyday of the season, no matter the conditions.
So, here are a list of parks that don't ride like George Michael on his way home from an awards ceremony (Ranking in no particular order).
Snowpark Laax, Switzerland
Nearest Airport: Zürich, Switzerland
What can we say about Laax snowpark that hasn’t been said before? It is arguably the best park in Europe…consistently. It’s no surprise that Laax hosts some of snowsports' most prestigious events, including the Burton European Open, which is currently the only elite level competition held in Europe.
It boasts a whopping 200m long, 6.9m superpipe that is currently the biggest pipe in the world, and is sure to be for years to come. However, if you’re not an aspiring Danny Davis or Shaun White, they’ve got a mellow 13 footer right next to the big ‘un for you to hone your skills on.
Instead of being contracted out to a snowpark company, Laax keep their shape crew ‘in-house’ (which we think results in a better park), and they do a damn fine job of keeping the place in prime form.
There’s also the infamous P60 run which starts at 2228m and drops all the way down to 1644m and is serviced by a chairlift that’ll whisk you back to the top of the Curnius run in no time.
It’s the little things that count at a snowpark, and we always like to see a park with straight-cut kicker walls and take-offs for rails. Put it this way, if we could afford to live in Switzerland, this is where we’d live.
Vans Penken Park Mayrhofen, Austria
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, Austria
Features: 28 (As of 13/01/2015)
Pipes: 1 (jib-pipe)
The infamous Vans Penken Park sits atop the Penkenbahn in the Austrian region of Tirol. Now, if you haven’t heard of Mayrhofen, you should probably go and book an appointment with your local physician because there might be something wrong with your brain hole.
The Vans Penken Park is one of the most well known and widely respected parks in Europe. Almost every rider you can think of has ridden here at some point, and apart from Laax, it’s pretty much the home of European freestyle. A handful of professional riders also call it their home, and for good reason.
Despite the oceans of coverage it's garnered over the years, the Vans Penken Park is actually pretty short. If you put some gas into your run, you can probably get a decent line of about 1 minute 30 seconds… max. But, the Vans Penken Park has one of the fastest and shortest chairlifts that’ll whisk you back up. All in all, from top to bottom to top again, you’re probably looking at a 5-minute run.
There’s also a myriad of competitions and events held at the Penken Park over the season from rookie through to elite level, from the über-chill Vans Hi-Standard to Välley Rälley finals.
Mottolino Snowpark Livigno, Italy
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, Austria or Zürich, Switzerland.
Another semi-hidden gem of European parks is the Mottolino Snowpark in Livigno. Whilst it might be better known to our two planked brethren, the Mottolino Snowpark in Northern Italy, lies just on the border of Switzerland and to the east of Südtirol. Whilst it can be a little difficult to get to, you certainly reap the rewards once you’re there.
At one point back in the early 00’s, Livigno hosted the Burton European Open before it moved over to Laax in the latter part of the decade. Since then, Livigno has hosted more than its fair share of competitions including the Burn River Jump, which is one of our favourite competitions of all time.
Since then, Mottolinio Snowpark has dissolved into the map a little, despite being one of the most progressive snowparks in Europe. It’s one of Belgian ripper Seppe Smits’ training grounds, as well as a bunch of other professional riders.
Livigno also hosts the Nine Knights competitions, which, although having been freeski competitions in the past, have invited snowboarders to compete for the second time in 2015 - and it’ll be the second time that the chaps can touch some sky on the notorious snowsculpted castle.
Alongside supporting the uber-pros of the snowboard world, Livigno host the World Rookie Champs each winter, bringing together the finest fresh buds of snowboarding for a few days of slopestyle battling. We reckon the coolest aspect of the World Rookie Champs is that each night, the kids get lessons and lectures from various people in action sports, and beyond; on topics within snowboarding, health and personal development. A classy move from a resort with more style than a James Dean biopic.
Absolut Park Flachauwinkl, Austria
Nearest Airport: Salzburg, Austria
There’s one word to describe the Absolut Park Flachauwinkl; BIG.
With a beginner line that holds 12 features, 10 of them in one smooth line, 4 super easy obstacles in the Jib Park und plenty more in the Stash, you can make it the starting point of your jib career. If you've already had your fair share of time in the park, you can attack the intermediate rail line and 5 jumps with tables varying from 5 to 10 meters.
Coming into the carpark, you catch three chairlifts up to the top of the park and emerge by the wooden fence surrounding the top of the park. There’s then four to five kickers in a line of varying sizes, kicking off with a 15m table.
The kickers are SO GOOD, the shape crew manage to build big enough kickers that float you over the knuckle, and with the ‘goldilocks’ pop that’ll help you initiate the trick, but not send you into the sky.
Another fantastic thing about the park is that they put fences up by the walls of the kickers. This means you don’t need to worry about there being wee nippers in the landing à la this.
From there, you lead into a quick hit jib park that’s more fun than a bumpy car ride with Kate Upton. Lots of little hits from different directions to get creative on. What’s not to like?
Snowpark Sulayr Sierra Nevada, Spain
A hidden gem of European snowparks has to be the Snowpark Sulayr Sierra Nevada, in Spain. When most of us think of Spain, we think of beaches, bikinis and a lashings of cheap margaritas – the thing is, Sierra Nevada has all of that AND a 2.5km long park.
The Snowpark Sulayr has 70 features set out in 8 zones of various difficulties. The idea being that you can channel your inner flow and hit up to 46 features per run. Put it this way, you’re more likely to die of old age before you get bored of Snowpark Sulayr.
Sierra Nevada currently has 20cm of snow at the base – that’s a damn sight more than most ‘established’ resorts currently have. The resort is snow-sure until May, and you might even find yourself sharing the resort with some mountain bikers who migrate up to Sierra Nevada to get some early season riding in on the lower terrain.
The riding is limited to one main bowl, but what a bowl it is. If you ever get bored of the epic park, there’s still 87.5km of trails to jib your way through as well. Sitting at 2100m, it’s the same height as Tignes, but with more sunshine. What isn’t there to love about this place?
Snowpark Seiser Alm, Italy
Nearest Airport: Verona, Italy or Innsbruck, Austria
As part of the Dolomiti Superski area, the combined area of the mountain range is a whopping 1200km, of which there are a maximum of 25 snowparks covered in the superski pass. It’s a pretty big range basically.
The crowning jewel of all these parks is the Snowpark Seiser Alm - Italy’s award winning park. Built by the epic crew over at F-Tech Snowparks, this is their 9th year looking after the Snowpark Seiser Alm, nestled in the peaks of the Alps di Siusi, in Northern Italy.
F-Tech are Italy/Südtirol’s best shaping and fabrication company, spanning the entire planning, build and maintenance of the parks they work on. There are some super unique features that they build, which makes it no surprise that it’s one of the parks of choice for the HWCLS crew of Kevin Kok and co.
Serviced by it’s own chairlift, when you reach the top there are two separate sections of the park. The first section is the mellower section with boxes and kickers before you reach the second part of the park where the difficulty of the features cranks up a notch.
The crew there are also really good at creating features you wouldn’t normally see in most parks. There always seems to be a smattering of wooden features and sidehits hidden in the trees.
So, in short – if you’re looking for a trip that has enough terrain to keep the piste leopards happy and the park rats happy, Seiser Alm is a solid option.
Blue Tomato Kings Park HOchkönig, Austria
Nearest Airport: Salzburg, Austria
Another Austrian hidden gem is the Mülbach Kings Park Höchkönig, just a few kilometers away from the Absolut Park. Spanning 1.8km in two different zones, this is one of our favourite parks to lap when the ice turns to slush. You catch a gondola up the mountain from the car park, traverse over to another gondola and then you’re at the top and ready to begin your 1.8km descent.
There’s a few jib hits before you can redirect onto a double kicker line that when built right, are really good progression kickers (read; not too big). Failing that, you keep down the jib line getting a few more hits in before the lines merge for two more jibs before you hit a long transition segment leading you to the next section of the park.
You pop off a hefty roller, slam on the brakes and then you’re in the second segment of the park. There's then roughly 10 hits in a row ranging from industry rails, flat boxes, hips and cones before you jump on the gondola back to the top.
The gondola also has free WiFi so you can fufil all your social media commitments as well.
The park also hosts a few competitions throughout the season, including a stop on the QParks Snowboard Tour.
Area 47 Snowpark Sölden, Austria
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, Austria
Sölden is one of the most popular resorts in Europe, period. Race teams train there, James Bond movies are filmed there and it's full of Germans in ski boots dancing on top of tables listening to strange oompah apres music. Although it sounds a little like Dante's 3rd circle of hell, there's a well maintained and progressive snowpark to be found in the form of the Area 47 Snowpark Sölden.
Atop the Giggijoch chairlift lies the park, spanning over 744m in various lines from beginner to pro. Kicking off with a jib line to get the legs warmed up, the park then splits off into the different lines to suit your ability.
The park has a few 'special' features that make it stand out. There's a GoPro branded stairset that has a ledge, downtube, or creeper rail over the stairs, or there's a closeout option to riders left hand side of the rail.
Oakley have also hooked the park up with a mammoth elephant box that's built around the iconic Oakley 'O' shape. Give it some gas and you'll send it to the down section if you're brave enough.
At the end of each season, Area 47 Snowpark Sölden also plays host to a mega feature that comes in different forms each year. Legendary crews like the Pirates, travel to the Rettenbach glacier to give it a good going over for their latest productions. You can read up on that beast here.
Nearest Airport: Östersund Airport, Sweden
There's a good reason Kläppen has been named Sweden's best park for nine years in a row (and it's not for the over-abundance of beautiful people either!).
With multiple parks for different ability levels from beginner to advanced and enough pro-level features to keep the likes of Sven Thorgren happy, Kläppen is well deserving of a spot on this list.
Freestyle Circus Serfaus, Austria
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, Austria
To the Eastern ends of Austria, we now travel to the Voralberg region and to the 212km of terrain called the Fiss-Serfaus-Ladis area. Here you'll find the Freestyle Circus Serfaus, and its seven different freestyle areas, a childrens boardercross and 10 freeride routes recommended by the resort.
But, we digress, if it's freestyle you're after then the Freestyle Circus Serfaus is where it's at. There's a quiver of kickers beefing up to 18m tables as well as the usual boxes, rails, wallrides, bonks and jibs to keep you entertained. It is a circus after all...
What makes the Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis area stand out even more though, is their 10 recommended freeride routes that are all easily accessible by lift.
There's also a bag jump to hone any extra inverts or spins you were looking to huck, as well as a 'fun slope' for the nippers to take their first tentative turns into freestyle.
There’s also the added bonus of a free photoshoot every Tuesday in the park. All you have to do is pitch up, look for the flags noting which feature the photographer is shooting on and you’re good. The best shots then get uploaded to the Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis Facebook page, where you’re free to use them as you wish!
Snowpark Kitzbühel, Austria
Nearest Airport: Salzburg, Austria
Kitzbühel might well be known for its pitch twisting race course; the Hahnenkamm. If 130kph down ice doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you'll be glad to know that a few chairlifts away from the spandex-ers, is the Mercedes-Benz Snowpark Kitzbühel.
Split into four zones, you first come across the upper jibpark with a choice of rails and boxes to get the legs working before having the choice of traversing over to the proline of the park, or continuing your line into another jib line and the medium/beginner kicker line.
The QParks shape team can build some behemoth booters. Check what they've built in the past here, but normally you're not expected to be semi-pro to hit the kickers in Kitzbühel.
The park is serviced by a super quick chairlift that runs just to the riders right of the park so on your way back up, you can plan your next line.
The only issue with the park is that because Kitzbühel is such a popular resort, it can get busy at peak times. But, if you're lucky enough to visit in the low-season, there's some dammed good riding to have here.
Les Deux Alpes Park, France
Nearest Airport: Grenoble, France
An hour and half bus journey from Grenoble leads you up to the valley resort of Les Deux Alpes, where no matter the season, there's enough park action to keep you content. In the winter, the park is one of the best in France.
Ascending the Gondola to the mid-station, you then catch the Toura chair where you have the choice of three lines. There's an additional tow-lift that'll send you up to the beginner park as well as their jib park, with a super fun gas tank to get busy on.
If you drop into the main park there's an additioanl two lines to choose from. There's a Slopestlye-esque course that has a few medium sized booters and the usual layout of rails, jibs, boxes and wallrides. This then leads into the 120m pipe, that depending on the weather, is normally pretty solid, so you'll probably need to have some transition experience to get to grips with it.
The other option is normally a kicker with a table that'd put the heebie jeebies in Casper the friendly ghost.
In summer, the park is equally as fun. You’ll have to be up as early as the sunrise to ascend the gondola up to 3200m, but once you’re there, there’s a veritable playground of fun to be had. The park is split into lines for the varying ability of different riders, including a rail line that would make Bear Mountain shake at the knees.
Should you wish to perfect your pipe technique, there’s even a whopper of a pipe to slash, carve and oop to your hearts content. Trust us when we say it’s way more fun learning pipe in summer rather than a 22ft icy wall of death superpipe in winter.
The pro, intermediate, improver and beginner lines offer enough hits per lap to keep you riding ‘til your skin burns off, and depending on holiday dates and how busy the park is – you can get some fairly decent hot laps. Chilli style.
Snowpark El Tarter Grandvalira, Androrra
Nearest Airport: Barcelona, Spain
Grandvalira - home to cheap booze, sunshine, tax free living, and conscription to the army in times of war. The sixth smallest country packs a hell of a bang when it comes to snowparks though.
Snowpark El Tarter makes up part of the Grandvalira range, spanning 200km of terrain that's mostly for intermediate riders. However, the Snowpark El Tarter is definitely big boy/girl sized.
It normally consists of a triple line of kickers, a gap jump that'll get the heart going and the usual aperitif of jib features to keep you going if you're a hardened freestyle veteran. If you taking your first dive into the world of freestyle, the beginners area is not to be snubbed at either with a littering of small kickers up to 5m, and a couple of disco floors, butter boxes and jibs to whet your appetite.
Although the direct translation of Soldeu means Sung God, they normally have enough snow depth to push a fairly decent halfpipe as well. Another fantastic place to learn transition snowboarding with slush walls rather than icy walls of death.
Snowpark El Tarter is known for its annual 5 Star WST competition; The Grandvalira Total Fight. With 2014 being its 10th birthday, the event is back and bigger than ever with $50,000 up for grabs. In the last decade, we've seen some of the best riders in the world take to the El Tarter in the Total Fight. This year will be no different with the dates already set and the SPF 50+ being stockpiled.
Snowpark Nesselwang, Germany
Nearest Airport: Munich, Germany
Now we waxed some lyrical about the Snowpark Nesselwang when it first opened, but for those of you that didn't catch it, we'll re-wax it up for you.
Snowpark Nesselwang might well be the most creative park in Europe right now. Legendary German shapers Schneestern, partnered up with the Bull of Red, to design a completely unique setup to be built in their home resort of Nesselwang.
The whole park has been custom designed with the Schneestern team so that every feature is new and one of a kind to the park. Due to the variable snow conditions at Nesselwang, the crew also put some time in the digger into the project by doing earthworks in 2014 to ensure the quality of the park.
The park might only have 20 features, but you'd struggle to find 20 features like it in Europe. The 20 features includes a faux police station complete with wallride, rocket rail, creeper rails and even an upturned police car that serves as a cannon butter box.
Whilst Nesselwang probably isn't the best place to spend a week's holiday, if you're ever in the Kempten or Munich, regions of Germany - we'd highly recommend a detour to check it out.
Snowpark Kitzsteinhorn, Austria
Nearest Airport: Salzburg, Innsbruck
The Kitzsteinhorn glacier, located near Salzburg, is stacked with opportunities to rage through its snow parks - a whooping four in total.
The Easy Park gives groms plenty of options to practice, so that in a couple years from now, they can throw down pentacorks. The Central Park and the Glacier Park with monster kickers and jibs won't leave any shredders needs unsatisfied, the super pipe can keep you busy for days to come, and if you're looking for a chill sunset session in the valley, the Railgarden Lechnerberg will make you a happy camper.
With its sick set-up and the amount of snow there is to use for creative projects, it doesn't come as too big of a surprise that events like Marc Swoboda's Hippie Jump, Volcom's Banked Slalom or even our very own Send Off Session have chosen the Kitzsteinhorn glacier to host events. So next time you riot through the parks, keep your eyes open for Terje, Longo and the likes.
Snowpark Vars, France
Nearest Airport: Turin, Italy
Vars is hidden away in the Southern region of the Hautes-Alpes in France, and were it not for its distance from Geneva, the region would surely have been spoilt by now. But, the very big upside of this resort is exactly that; its rustic charm.
Fear not though, for despite its hamlet-ey like appearance, Vars packs a punch when it comes to the snowpark department. 6 punches in actual fact, which is surely enough to daze any heavyweight rider.
Coming under the broad title of La Fourêt Blanche, there are 6 parks in Vars and 2 located in nearby Risoul, for those that are more adventurous.
The Park des Escondus offers the usual serving of jibs, kickers and rails for the advanced riders, whilst the 'Kids Park' and 'Girly Park' (WTF?) ensure that there'll be no nippers in the landing.
Should your knees not be broken by the end of the day, there's also the Park des Ecrins, which offers a floodlight park deep into the night.
If you venture over to Risoul, there's a park peaking at 2400m which includes a pipe for all your transition needs, and a hefty sized big air booter with a table of 18m+
Snowpark Vierli, Norway
Nearest Airport: Oslo Gardemoen, Norway
We guess that this is pretty much the only non-glacier snowpark that's guaranteed snow no matter how bad the season is. Located to the West of Norway's capital city Oslo, it's a few hours of roadtrip on the notoriously sketchy Norwegian motorways until you hit Vierli.
The best thing about the lift that the park is on? It's literally a park, and nothing else. That means all of the resources go straight into creating the best possible park for snowboarders of all levels.
There's a reason why Markus Kleveland stomped his triple here...and Ståle Sandbech...and Jørn Simen Aabøe...and why RK1 film here. It's because it's fucking sick.
Spanning 750m, it's one of Norway's longest park runs and potentially one of the best maintained. The park is built by the notorious, yet secretive Mushroom Crew, who host an end of season competition to end all end-of-season competitions.
If you visit in the late-season, there’s also a skatepark that would make any major city in Europe jealous. Sponsored by Element, it spans 800m2 and wouldn’t look out of place on a street league stop.
The only downside to Vierli, is that it is in Norway. This means you either need to have won the lottery recently, or you’ll need to re-mortgage your flat to spend time there. However, like Nesselwang, it’s well worth the detour to check it out if you can.
Nearest Airport: Geneva,
Length: Up to 1.3km
Much like Laax or Mayrhofen, Avoriaz is another snowboarder’s paradise. With 3+ parks (and that’s not including The Stash…), plus a superpipe, Avoriaz has everything that your typical park rat could ever desire.
The La Chapelle park (or ‘baby park’ as it’s known to locals), features a pretty wide range of features suited to everyone from total noobs to seasoned rippers. Furthermore, the park can be lapped rapidly thanks to a dedicated drag lift.
The Arare park is definitely geared more towards the intermediate and advanced riders, with a solid selection of rails and both L and XL sized kickers. Avoriaz is also home to Europe’s only ‘The Stash’: a Burton-sponsored winding, multi-route run down through the trees, littered with log jibs, wooden wallrides and other 100% natural features.
To top it all off, Avoriaz is also equipped with one of the few remaining halfpipes in France, and although not as snow-sure as say, the Tignes pipe, its 120m length and 6m walls are definitely respectable. All told, Avoriaz is well worth considering if you’re looking for variety in your park shred.
Stubai Zoo, Austria
Nearest Airport: Innsbruck, Austria
Stubai have been really stepping up their game as legitimate location for freestyle snowboarding over the past few seasons. Every October, the high-altitude glacier resort host the Moreboards Stubai Premiere and pull together one heck of a solid park, which also happens to be one of the very first to open up in the Northern Hemisphere.
On top of the regular park opening, Stubai also hosted the Prime Park Sessions in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, pulling together a full professional-level slopestyle course alongside some serious cheese wedges for the best riders in the world to train on before the winter season kicks off proper.
During the main winter months the park offering, both in overall size and number of features, is scaled back a bit, before ramping back up again in the spring.
And while there may be other resorts close to Stubai that build bigger parks in the high-season, if you’re looking for an exceptional park in the fall and spring when there aren’t that many other options, Stubai is definitely worth considering.
Disneyland Paris, France
Nearest Airport: Charles de Gaulle Paris, France
Pipes: None that we know of, but that doesn't include the staff's own.
Located just West of Paris, Disneyland is the biggest park in Europe, coming in at 570,00m2, and is actually the fourth most visited park in the world. There's over 40 features of different abilities from 'stop being a little bitch' to 'thats actually fucking gnarly' spread out into two main zones.
With over 15 million visitors every year, the park can get crowded in peak season with up to 45 minute waits to drop into your feature of choice. It can also be frustrating getting snaked by 'FastPass' owners who get to skip queues, but take solace in the fact that they're actually just jumped-up rich kids there with their mum's, which is totally wack.
The park is maintained by the WaltDisney crew who are some of the most prestigious park builders on the planet. They also build and maintain parks in Florida, Japan and California. They've also just been approved to build parks in Hong Kong and China in the 15/16 season, so they're well on their way to being the biggest park company in the world.
The head of the park crew is the notorious Mickey, who has led the crew since 1928. You'll recognise Mickey 'caus he takes spring riding to a whole new level by working in shorts all season long, whilst topless. Some say he was inspired by Mt Hood edits, but we reckon it's because he's a straight-up badass.
The longest run at the park is the 1,037m long 'Around the World' run, where you're guaranteed to stomp at least 3 inverts. This isn't for rookies though, as you need to be at least 1.2m tall to get the required 92kph speed to clear the course.
There's something for everyone at the park and with over 6,376 staff, the park is always maintained to a high standard. Tickets start at €62, but you can combo up multi-day passes for a discount. We've found it best to go in the late season in around June, where you can even snap up a 3 day hotel stay and passes for around €200.