Big parks, big tricks, big air

You enjoy carving up the slopes, on a board instead of skis. Free-riding is fun, but what really makes your day is catching air off jumps or a half-pipe. No problem. Several Minnesota ski and snowboard areas have made a name for themselves with big, board-friendly terrain parks.

These slopes are the ideal place to practice and hone your boarding skills, because they provide drop and speed without being intimidating. That’s why longtime alpine skier Arah Bohn, who migrated to Minnesota from Washington state, decided to give snowboarding a try. Now, she’s hooked. “The hills here are small enough that you don’t feel like you’re going to get hurt trying something new,†she says.

Giants Ridge near Biwabik boasts one of the biggest terrain parks east of the Rockies: It’s 3,000 feet of free-riding fun among numerous boxes and rails, tables, jumps, quarter- and half-pipes–even a full-size bus buried in the snow. Giants Ridge offers activities for every winter enthusiast: 34 alpine ski runs; 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails; and 18 km of groomed snowshoe trails.

The 700-foot vertical drop at Duluth’s Spirit Mountain Ski and Recreation Area is one of the state’s highest. Spirit Mountain is known for its long, fast runs and spectacular views of Lake Superior and the Duluth-Superior harbor. But it also has some of the best freestyle terrain in the state, including its Super Pipe and the giant jumps in the Big Air Terrain Park. Impress your friends by busting a trick against breathtaking scenery. Spirit Mountain also caters to cross-country enthusiasts with 22 km of track-set and 22 km of skate-ski groomed trails.

Perched on a lofty hill in central Minnesota, Power Ridge Winter Recreation Area near Kimball has made a name for itself by developing a significant terrain area with large features. A dedicated rope tow serves two adjacent terrain parks, so it’s easy to carve up the half-pipe, ride some rails, and catch a quick tow back to the top. A third terrain run–Kowabunga Park–has smaller terrain features for those still learning the tricks of terrain. Powder Ridge has 15 runs and a snow tubing park.

Sprawling Afton Alps, a nearly 300-acre ski and snowboard area near Hastings, is one of the largest in the Midwest. Among 48 runs are four terrain parks scattered across the slopes. Try out new equipment at the Midwest’s largest ski and snowboard demo center. Or take a break from the slopes at Afton’s snow-tubing park.

There’s air to catch at the Unleashed Terrain Park at Welch Village Resort southeast of the Twin Cities. This park has plenty to keep you busy in the way of jumps, boxes, rails, and a half-pipe. After you’ve played on the terrain, explore the rest of Welch Village’s 50 runs. Welch Village is one of Bohn’s favorites: “Welch has a bit of variety, which is nice,†she says. “It has more than one main lodge, which gives it a bit of mountain atmosphere.â€

Mount Kato Ski Area serves up three terrain parks with many different features, including nicely sized jumps and curved boxes. The mountain’s 19 runs are mixed evenly across difficulty levels. A snow-tubing park provides extra fun in the snow. Mount Kato is conveniently located just a few minutes from the heart of Mankato and near several cross-country ski trails.

“What’s cool about (Minnesota) is that a lot of the bigger-style jumps are the same as they are out west,†says Adam Sanocki, a 22-year veteran boarder who spends his winters riding at ski areas and terrain parks all over the state. (“As winter goes, it’s pretty much my life,†he admits.) He enjoys hitting the slopes with family and friends, and appreciates the quality snowboarding that Minnesota provides. “Everybody does such a good job and changes their parks all the time,†he says. “It keeps you on your toes. It makes it fun; you hook up at different areas and meet new people.â€