Does this Utah snowboard park signal the end of skiing as we know it?
Woodward Park City, Utah’s newest winter resort, opened in December with a twist: It doesn’t have any traditional groomed ski runs.
The entire mountain is a terrain park, owned by resort conglomerate Powdr. It’s covered with slope-style lines, half-pipes, box and rail features of different degrees of difficulty for different skill levels.
“They built a new resort from scratch, one that revolves around the terrain park culture, and it is very exciting,” said Elia Hamilton, vice president of terrain development for Peak Resorts, a Powdr rival. “They believed in the demand for such a resort and invested in it when others weren’t. That speaks volumes.”
Terrain parks, once the domain of snowboarders, now accommodate both skiers and riders, thanks to advances in ski design, particularly the evolution of twin-tipped skis (the tips and tails are curved upward and allow the skier to more easily ski backward).
Woodward has operated athletic camps for 50 years that feature BMX, skateboarding, parkour and other action sports. Powdr, which owns 11 mountain resorts, eventually took note and in 2011 bought Woodward.
It’s a change, for sure, but is it a sea change?
Into the mainstream
Terrain riding began in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an underground, against-the-rules activity by teen snowboarders who would ride and jump off snow-covered rooftops, sidewalk handrails and snowbanks. They could be fined or arrested if caught.
The first terrain parks were built in California and Colorado in the late ’80s, said Michael Bettera, president of terrain park development firm Effective Edge. The early parks, which were then called snowboard parks, were designed in part to separate riders from other guests, usually skiers. Safety was a concern.
In those days, about 5% of the nearly 500 U.S. ski resorts had snowboard parks. They continued to grow in popularity, eventually welcoming skiers with the advent of twin-tipped skis. The formerly underground sport entered the mainstream in 1997 when the Winter X Games began featuring big air, slopestyle, superpipe and other events.
True legitimization occurred in 1998 when the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, welcomed terrain park events as official sports. Bettera said 95% of the country’s ski resorts had parks by the 2000s, aided by park-specific snow cats and other advancements in snow-grooming equipment.
“It really represents a new philosophy in ski area operations,” Hamilton said. “We are now physically manipulating the terrain to keep the user engaged and interested. And in terms of designing and building the features, we’re capable of doing so many more things now.”
As park culture grew, resorts began to expand their terrain parks beyond a single run. One early example is Peak Resorts’ Mount Snow in Vermont, which in 2008 developed the nearby Carinthia 100-acre ski area into a terrain park loaded with multiple trails, rails, jumps and a superpipe.
Although modest compared with traditional ski mountains — nearby Park City Mountain Resort, at 7,300 acres, is the largest ski resort in the U.S.
— Woodward offers nine terrain parks for skiers and snowboarders.
First-timers can learn the basics at the appropriately named Start Park. Those with more advanced skills can play and learn in the Peace Park, which was designed by Olympic snowboarder Danny Davis, or can try the rails in Red’s Backyard, inspired by a riding apparatus in the backyard of Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard. The experience can be self-guided but includes coaches nearby to offer pointers as well as instructional classes and camps.
“We already had bought our ski passes for the local ski resort and thought we might join Woodward next year,” said Saffire Dawson, mother of 9-year-old Ketcher. “Once we went to the opening and saw everything that it offered, we said, ‘OK, we need this in our lives right now.’ We signed up for the monthly membership [$120 per person per month] on the spot.”
Dawson’s family now visits the resort four or five times a week.
“It’s designed to allow you to evolve,” Bettera said. “A ‘never ever’ can work the Start Park, build up to Advanced Terrain and eventually play within the actual terrain park itself. This provides a safer progression for a skier or rider that makes the experience more interesting, more engaging and more fun.”
Woodward Park City embraces every possible facet of the idea of “park.” Besides the snow-covered mountain, it has a 66,000-square-foot indoor action sports complex, a multitude of ramps for wheeled sports, and trampolines for cheer and tumbling.
By summer, concrete skate parks, bike trails and dirt tracks will surround the facility. True to park culture and video-obsessed Gen Z, the resort also touts digital media activities. A production room in the basement is filled with iMacs and the newest video editing software. Video production classes will be offered soon.
Natural or man-made
Some resorts are holdouts that see no need to embrace the park movement. Alta Ski Area and Deer Valley Resort, both in Utah, don’t have terrain parks or allow snowboarders. Resort representatives said both prefer to stick with native terrain to provide a more traditional mountain experience.
“ “A part of our mountain is a natural terrain park,” said Andria Huskinson, communications manager for Alta.
But guests are showing up in force at Woodward. Its opening drew 1,500 people, including more than 150 professional and Olympic athletes. The facility, inside or out, is filled with flipping, grinding and airborne skiers/riders, skateboarders, freestyle BMX riders, parkour tracers, roller-bladers and scooter-riders.
“The turnout has been amazing,” said Shaydar Edelmann , the general manager. “The Action Sports Hub has been full every session, and there’s tremendous interest in the snow sports too.
“If it works out the way we think it will, it’s certainly something that we’d look at replicating for the action sports community around the world.”
If you go
Woodward Park City, 3963 Kilby Road, Park City, Utah; (435) 658-2648. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Daily all-access pass from $56; lift-only pass from $30.
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