Terrain parks are like opinions - just about everybody's got one. Almost 90 percent of all winter mountain resorts in the United States have some sort of terrain park, according to statistics compiled by National Ski Areas Association.

Colorado is no exception, with the majority of its two dozen or so resorts having some sort of arena for park rats to congregate.

"Resorts have come to the conclusion that terrain parks are on the list of to-do options," says Mike Bettera, senior projects manager of Snow Park Technologies, whose clients include the Winter X Games in Aspen. "Terrain parks are something you must have."

Loosely defined, a terrain park is a special, set-aside area of a resort that allows skiers and snowboarders to play on in-snow features such as rails, boxes, stairs, and other similar (generally metallic) protuberances. "Park rats," as the generally youthful TP denizens are called, then slide across, bounce off or jump over these features with varying degrees of skill and a great amount of enthusiasm.

"It's totally a social thing," says Bettera. "It comes from urban skateboarding where kids like to simply hang out. It's truly different from the backcountry (skiing and snowboarding) experience."

Like opinions, terrain parks vary greatly.

"A good park is one that has multiple levels of progress," says Bettera. "You have small, non-intimidating features for (neophytes) getting the feel of going over them. Then you have medium-size features that create a good line with multiple hits that are fun for people no matter how (well) they ride. And then you have large features for the show boats to dial in big tricks.

"You can tell the better parks by the amount of (commercial) branding they use. And by the way they look and are presented through the use of flags, fencing, music, animation and other fun stuff ... things that bring liveliness and life to the park."

On the other hand, Bettera says, you can tell when a resort just doesn't care about park rats.

"There's not a lot of allocation of resources," he says. "They don't maintain the park on a daily basis or the trail is hidden or is not pushed or marketed by the resort or it's not (commercially) branded."

Here's a brief rundown on what Colorado has to offer in the way of terrain parks:

Practically the entire hill at Echo Mountain is a terrain park with freestyle terrain featuring rails, walls, booters, busses, and boxes. There are features and terrain for every skier and snowboarder, a sound system plays tunes across the slopes, and the resort is fully lit for nighttime riding.

Monarch Mountain tries to maintain a low-key attitude and super-relaxed atmosphere in its three terrain parks: Ricochet, which is an advanced run with 10 hits, two rollers and a quarterpipe; Aftershock, an intermediate/advanced run with 10 features; and Slo Motion, a beginner's arena with five hits and multiple quarterpipe walls and rollers.

Steamboat's terrain park is serviced by its own chairlift, features terrain for all ability levels spread over 11.8 acres, an outdoor sound system, and professionally designed rails and jumps. Also check out Maverick's, one of premier superpipes on the continent with 18-foot-high walls, a 56-foot width, 22-foot transitions, and 500 feet of length.

Powderhorn has two parks: The Pepsi Tyro Park, located on Bottom's Up and designed to help newbies develop skills and learn new tricks, and the Mt. Dew Junction Park, situated on Peacemaker and containing a variety of features for the intermediate and advanced park rats.

The Pump Haus Park at Sunlight has a half-dozen or so features, including a 16-foot flat box in the middle of the park that was built by Justin Cochran.

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.