Lighting up the Nite
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Alberta’s north is the perfect winter wonderland setting for all kinds of snowy outdoor recreation: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, and it's home to seven ski hills! Follow along with us and don’t forget to tag #SkiNorthAB to tell us what you’ve discovered.
Day through night, Nitehawk turns up the freestyle fun
GRAND PRAIRIE, AB. - Sizzling down and throwing a huge indie one-footer off the big air, Drew Rogers stomps the landing and claims this Nite for the freestyle generation—which if you’re counting, now actually spans several generations going back roughly to the 1980s.
“I’m definitely one of the older people [at Nitehawk] who is still riding at this level,” says Rogers. “But if you continuously hone your skills and riding, it’s possible to keep it up.”
At 34, the Nitehawk operations manager and head coach of the Nitehawk Snowboard Club has been tied into the scene here for nearly a decade. And while most of the other park riders he sees are younger, he says, “I know guys who can still do it.”
When you pull up to Nitehawk on a weekend morning, the hill is often hopping. The Grande Prairie crowd is loyal even in the wake of a landslide in summer 2020 that downed the hill’s chairlift. Instead of dampening spirits here, skiers and boarders are amping up their park time and taking advantage of the legacy left by the 2010 Arctic Winter Games, like the natural halfpipe.
“The halfpipe is really special,” Rogers says. “It was originally for the Alberta Winter Games (2010) and it was a full halfpipe dirt-work, but we softened it out a little and made it more approachable. It’s a great spot for terrain-based learning. Not a lot of resorts have the full halfpipe anymore.”
As evening rolls around, Julian Miller is hucking big iron crosses and 540s off the big ramps, but there behind him and easily just as stoked, is his dad Jarrod. Now in his 40s, the elder Miller isn’t launching quite as big as his son, but he’s still along for the ride.
“I’m a little more trepidatious to take the bigger jumps,” says Jarrod. “I’ve tried the rails and I’m not great at them but I love hanging out there.”
Unlike Rogers, Miller doesn’t have a freestyle pedigree. “I played hockey but my son did not like skating, and somebody said, have you tried skiing?” he recalls. “Julian took one lesson and loved it, we couldn’t keep him off the hill. So we joined the race team but he was always getting in trouble for hitting jumps, so we switched to freestyle.”
From those simple beginnings, it's grown into a family affair. Now, says Miller, “We look forward to winter. It’s a fun time for us, because we have activities we do together.”
Of course, it’s not all park rat habitat. Bob’s Bump gives beginners a chance to perfect their pizza-pie french-fry with the help of Nitehawk’s CSIA/CASI instructors, while wide-open runs on Showoff and Will-o-way offer graduated skiing for the learners and cruisers.
“Freestyle doesn’t have to mean the park,” says Rogers. “There’s lots of rollers, there’s the halfpipe, lots to keep it interesting and do something more than just right turn, left turn all the way down the hill—to be creative and use the terrain to have a little more fun.”
It’s not just skiing and boarding either. From the Nitehawk day lodge, you can head out on a four kilometre hike out to O’Brien’s Point, for some magic sunset views along the Wapiti River.
Then there’s the tube park, with its new night-time party vibe. Bumping tunes, blacklight glow and multi-coloured strobes make the ride feel like a night at the club, but without the adverse effects later. And of course, there’s always an apres spot or two worth hitting when you get back to town, like Grain Bin Brewing or Broken Oak Distillery.
From day to night, terrain park to town, it’s a scene tested by adversity, and thriving through diversity and creativity — and that’s what freestyle is all about.
WHEN YOU GO
- Check our #SkiNorthAB Experience Series for package deals and great rates on hotels, dining and activities.
- Use this itinerary, courtesy of Grande Prairie Tourism Association, to plan your trip.
- For a leisurely cross-country glide, check out the Wapiti Nordic Club - with 35 kilometres of groomed tracks, including lit trails for night skiing.
- As a non-profit, community ski hill, Nitehawk was hit hard by the 2020 landslide that took out their chairlift and access to a huge chunk of skiable terrain. Skiers and boarders who want to make a difference in the Alberta ski scene can donate to Nitehawk’s Landslide Recovery Fund and help restore the ski area to full capacity.