Pushing the Boundaries: A Look Back + Look Ahead of Sierra's Legendary Terrain Parks

Snow Reporter
Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Terrain. Terrain is everything. From long rolling slopes to steep cliffs, what the mountain provides is what you work with + mountains are made by the terrain they provide. Within those boundaries is where we have unleashed the natural limitations. 

Sierra is gifted with an immense variety of terrain from steeps in Huckleberry, to trees in Jacks Bowl, or the low angle slopes off Easy Rider, + has surpassed the limitations through creating our own special place, which we call The Playgrounds — our legendary terrain park program. The Playgrounds have helped transform the culture of Sierra + have even evolved over the years. The feeling of flying, which once was only accessible on big powder days over boulders and fallen trees, is now on display in the middle of wide runs. What once was a punishable offense of building jumps within ski boundaries, is now celebrated. 

The Playgrounds 

History of The Playgrounds

The Playgrounds dip, rise, roll, drop + can send you soaring, transforming the experience on snow to where the only limit is your imagination. This imaginative spirit is in full supply at Sierra and John Rice, our General Manager for almost 30 years, has been a big part of pushing The Playgrounds creativity. Rice previously worked at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit in Southern California, to create the world's first full-time terrain park program, designed specifically for the “rebels” of snowboarding. Big air style jumps used to be hard to come by, but the rise of skateboarding + snowboarding began to push the boundaries of what ski resorts would allow — let alone offer and encourage. These initial parks, that Rice helped establish, were created for snowboarders to mimic skate parks and thus called “snowboard parks.” Once Rice was at the helm of Sierra, he continued to push boundaries in the parks and the demand grew with Sierra right at the front of its progression.

Snowboard parks took the world by storm and quickly grew to include the immense diversity they encompassed + officially take the name Terrain Parks.

The goal of The Sierra Playgrounds is to create a welcoming space where everybody can come to have fun, challenge themselves, and learn something new,” says Terrain Park Supervisor Tyson Terpening. “Our terrain parks truly are a playground of sorts where we aim to keep that child-like fun vibe alive, whether you’re a parent riding alongside your groms on our sculpted terrain on Broadway or a pro boosting a hip in The Alley.

The passion to create for the growth of others and to stretch what’s possible, flows out of The Playgrounds team. The opportunity to providing better and consistent riding and skiing motivates this team, and it first started with the Sierra Circuit. The Circuit connected the mountain from top to bottom through a series of kickers, jibs, rails, jumps + boxes. This program invited people of all skills and ability levels to come and explore the unique terrain but also to come and train, breeding a competitive spirit — even for Olympic competitors.

Born + raised at Sierra, Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Anderson says “I feel like the parks that Sierra are honestly top notch. They're just so fun…There's amazing diversity from the jumps to the rails, to the pipe, to the tree rides… I feel like it's always progression. Like all I wanted to do was go shred there, it was legit”. The Circuit helped progression in the parks from beginners to Olympians + in turn transformed, as well. 

Sierra’s park programs took its new shape in The Sierra Playgrounds, a group of 8 terrain parks accessed around the mountain providing the chance for expression for everyone and continuing to breed that fighting competitive spirit.  This program includes The Halfpipe which is currently the only half-pipe in South Lake Tahoe. This always adventurous + growing spirit has brought fame through features in movies, magazines, and commercials, truly making The Playgrounds a place #WherePlayReignsFree. 

[Photo credit: Brian Walker]

Riders regularly get to experience something new with each visit; another park opening, new jumps, creative boxes and rails, + the annual opening of The Halfpipe. We are stoked for The Halfpipe to arrive as crews have been working ‘round the clock to push all of the early season snowfall + are getting closer to cutting it.

What It Takes To Build a Halfpipe

In speaking with one of the pipes builders, Rob Giustina, he detailed the process of building the pipe. He explained that the building takes multiple weeks due to snow safety, weather holds, and building each section individually. The sculptors begin the process by digging down to the ground and determining where the floor will be. The floor of the pipe this year is 22 feet under the surface and given such a deep base it will allow a solid and long pipe for the rest of the season. The next step is processing the snow, moving and manipulating it so that air pockets don’t form + cause weakness in the walls or internal collapsing. After the snow has been processed, the building begins, one wall at a time. This continues on to the next wall till the floor is 20+ ft below + the cutting can begin. The pipe is capped by painting down the lines and opening the gates to allow the tricks to flow. 

The Halfpipe and Playgrounds in whole are built to make you crave the next adventure. They set themselves apart through the imagination and creativity to always progress, and through creating a home. The Playgrounds aren’t done transforming and we can’t wait to see what the crew has in store + what you will stomp on your next park sesh in continuing the legacy of The Playgrounds. 

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