Lighting up the Nite For Freestyle Fun at Nitehawk, Grande Prairie
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Nitehawk Year-Round Adventure Park supports a grassroots freestyle scene that allows skiers and snowboarders to start early and embrace the fun of winter sport. Winter tubing, ski lessons and progressive terrain park features create a fun atmosphere for all levels at this northern Alberta gem.
Grande 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.
Freestyle skiing and snowboarding has been a big part of the Nitehawk Year-Round Adventure Park scene for several decades. But the area got a huge boost in 2004 with a summer water ramp, and the launching of local Grande Prairie aerialist Ryan Blais onto the national team (Blais won two World Cup aerial gold medals competing for Freestyle Canada, and only narrowly missed a spot on the 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams). That, coupled with hosting the 2010 Arctic Winter Games, established Nitehawk as one of the premier Alberta locations for freestyle development — a legacy that continues to feed the stoke into winter 2021-22.
For aspiring freestylers, their families, friends and entourages, it's a great place to let loose, have some fun, test your skills and maybe chill a bit, too. That's what first attracted Drew Rogers here almost ten years ago.
“I’m definitely one of the older people who is still riding at this level,” says Rogers, head coach of the Nitehawk Snowboard Club. “But if you continuously hone your skills and riding, it’s possible to keep it up.”
At 34, the Nitehawk operations manager 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. (A new t-bar is going up in its place this winter.)
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.
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WHEN YOU GO
- 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