Heartland skiers and riders are passionate about their sport, and they enjoy the variety of terrain found at ski areas across the Midwest; a large geographical area that stretches from the shores of Lake Erie to the Black Hills of South Dakota and as far south as Cincinnati and St. Louis. Granted, we are a bit vertically challenged, but we make the most out of what we've been given. The vertical drop is stretched to around 1,000 feet in a few cases, but the norm is less than half that size. The one area where we don't take a backseat is in terrain parks, which can take up half a hill or the whole hill. It doesn't matter. Midwest terrain parks stand tall.
Just about all of the nearly 100 ski areas and resorts scattered across the Midwest have some kind of terrain park. Here are just a few of the many notable parks.
Nubs Nob in Harbor Springs, Michigan, just a couple of winters go was named as the number one terrain park in all of North America, according to SKI Magazine. The terrain park includes a Superpipe, cut to Olympic specifications, which is set into its own slope complete with a surface lift. It also includes a smaller, beginner pipe, step-down jumps, and a rail garden with 15 different rails set down a long slope, a 35-foot Landing Strip fun box, a large spine and even a boardercross course.
Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands, Lower Michigan standouts, feature a 700-foot superpipe with 18-foot high walls at the Mountain and a 500-foot long, 13-foot high halfpipe at the Highlands. There's a little bit of everything from short, wide beginner boxes on flat terrain to experts' only rainbow and serpent rails as well as step-down jump rails and step-up jumps.
Chestnut Mountain, Galena, Illinois, has one of the best rail gardens I've seen in the lower Midwest, a 45-foot high, 150-foot-wide mountain of snow with over 20 combinations. In addition, there's the seven-acre Farside Terrain Park complete with its own chairlift and halfpipes, quarterpipes, tabletops, and more than 25 rails.
Sundown Mountain, across the Mississippi River on the Iowa side, has a great terrain park and halfpipe. Last season saw the addition of new rails and features designed with input from USASA National competitors, which included a monster wall. The park also has a dual computerized race course.
Devils Head Resort, long known as one of the Midwest's best boarding resorts, has added a new terrain park run for this season. Cut into a deep ravine, it's highlighted by a sweet drop, natural banks and rolls. Numerous lofty jumps, rails, boxes, and a great pipe will be part of the new run. With a variety of lines featuring smooth flow the new park will provide an exciting challenge, according to GM Joe Vittengl, who is also an avid rider.
Nearby Cascade Mountain, known for their spring rail jams, is adding a new rail garden this coming season. It will contain at least 30 rails complete with stadium lighting for a great nighttime venue. It's one of just a handful of rail gardens located across the Midwest. They also added a new beginner progression park called Cottontail.
Spirit Mountain, overlooking Duluth and Lake Superior, claims to have the largest terrain park in the Midwest, and they may be right. The Big Air Terrain Park and superpipe take up the whole left side - looking down - of the 700-foot ski hill. Some of the jumps and mounds of snow built up on the slope would rival some of the Midwest's smaller ski areas. Jumps range from 15 feet tall all the way to 80 feet. Rails include an S-rail, a rainbow, flat bars and lots of kickers. It's groomed daily and the superpipe is freshened up at least twice weekly. It's big time riding in the Heartland with jump lines for all ability levels.
Proving that you don't have to come from a mountain state to be a pro rider, Louie Vito honed his skills at Ohio's Mad River Mountain. His back-to-back spins - including 1080s - helped him earn 2nd overall in the 2006-07 Grand Prix Halfpipe standings, proving that he's one of the hottest young pipe riders. He posted several top 10 finishes last season in both halfpipe and slopestyle disciplines. He returns to his hometown each winter and hosts the Louie Vito Rail Jam at Mad River, which is slated to take place Dec. 27 this year. It benefits several local charities.
This is just a quick look at a few of the top terrain parks around the region. There are many more, and they are going day and night. Many will be going into the wee hours of the morning on selected weekends. Terrain parks create a level playing field for all resorts across North America. You don't have to leave the Midwest to find some of the best riding and freeskiing in the nation.
Read Paul Doherty's There's A Terrain Park For Everyone - Adrenaline Junkie Or Not for a library of information on North American terrain parks, including links to relevant stories.