By Dennis McCann
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
When Tyrol Basin near Mount Horeb reopened its ski hill in 1989, some of its early customers favored the then-new sport of snowboarding over traditional downhill skiing. So they asked manager Don McKay about installing a half-pipe. "What the heck is a half-pipe?" he asked.
But recognizing a business opportunity, McKay built one of the first half-pipes in the Midwest and snowboarding enthusiasts flocked to the hill. A few years later Tyrol completed its first terrain park, an area designed for snowboarders and freestyle skiers to perform jumps and other tricks. As snowboarding continued to grow in popularity, most other large ski resorts in Wisconsin added one or more terrain parks to attract (mostly) younger customers.
"In a way, it's been a savior to the industry nationwide," said McKay. Snowboarding has its own equipment, safety gear and even language - this is the realm of jibs and bonks and rails and such - but ultimately it's just another way to have some winter fun. Here are five great snowboarding parks in Wisconsin where you can grab big air.
Tyrol Basin still caters to the snowboarding crowd with everything from lessons for beginners to competition for more advanced snowboarders. But it also emphasizes its family-friendly atmosphere. In addition to the challenging features in its terrain park, Tyrol offers tree-lined slopes for skiers and snowboarders. The hill is open seven days and nights a week.
With more than 35 jibs and 15 jumps, Granite Peak Ski Area claims the largest terrain parks in the Midwest. The parks are groomed daily and overseen by a crew of "seasoned shredders" who ride the hills daily to ensure smooth landings. The Birch Terrain Park is billed as the resort's "Showtime Park," where "if you are looking to go big, this is your run." Andrew Warner, who manages a snowboard store in Madison and has boarded in Wisconsin for 15 years, says, "Granite Peak would definitely be on my top-five list."
Cascade Mountain offers four terrain parks aimed at adventuresome snowboarders and freeskiers. The Cottontail Beginner/Progression Park has small jumps and rails for those still learning the sport, while the Super Park boasts such challenging features as America's longest S-rail, so challenging that if you ride it all on video you get a free season pass. For the last several years, top snowboarders from the region have come for the Midwest Open, where catching not just big air but huge air is the goal. The resort offers a "Learn a Lifetime Sport" program that includes lift tickets, rental equipment and lessons for those seeking their first taste of the action. Families with youngsters will also be interested in Cascade's 900-foot snow tubing run.
Located just north of the Wisconsin/Illinois border, Wilmot Mountain is one of the top snowboarding areas in the greater Chicago area. Wilmot has been a winter sports destination since 1938 when Walter Stopa leased the property and began offering winter skiing. Stopa was one of the early pioneers in the art of making snow, a technology that removed the unpredictability from Wisconsin winters. Now part of the Vail Resorts family, Wilmot has evolved over the years to accommodate the popularity of snowboarding. There is now a Terrain Garden for very young snowboarders. For more serious shredders Wilmot's annual Winter Carnival features rail jam, mogul and big air competitions among its many other events.
This family-friendly ski area in the scenic Blue Hills region of northwestern
Wisconsin bills itself as one of the state's best kept secrets, offering skiing, snowboarding and tubing. Three of Christie Mountain's four terrain parks are serviced by rope tows. They range from a beginner's park with features only inches from the ground, to two intermediate parks with larger jumps, and finally to a snowboarding park known as Rusty's Revenge which challenges the top competitors. The mountain's annual Big Air & Rail Jam is a celebration of extreme snowboarding.
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