Adam Smith, left, and Elijah Mueller do simultaneous flips off a kicker in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The park was a feature added to the resort for the first time last year and has become a very welcome place for snowboarders and skiers to spend their time while they wait for more snow and eventually larger terrain parks.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Adam Smith, left, and Elijah Mueller do simultaneous flips off a kicker in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The park was a feature added to the resort for the first time last year and has become a very welcome place for snowboarders and skiers to spend their time while they wait for more snow and eventually larger terrain parks.

Early season terrain park is hot feature on a cold day

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Connor Brown flies off a rail Friday at Lil’ Rodeo.

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Scott Tomaro rides over a rail in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park.

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Matt Duffy rides over a rail at the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park at Steamboat Ski Area on Friday.

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Conor Garrech gets air off a jump in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park at Steamboat Ski Area.

— It was a cold, sunny December day, but Friday was anything but ideal for skiing or riding at Steamboat Ski Area.

The snowmaking machines ran like they have every day for nearly a month, but a lack of natural snow left grass sticking through on some runs, and all day the air was filled with the distinctive scrapes of fiberglass on ice.

Still, near the base of the mountain, a dedicated group of skiers and riders seemed to make almost endless circuits, riding up Christie Peak Express until lift operators finally blocked off the last of the open lanes, only moments before the sun set behind Emerald Mountain and an already cold day took on an even more decided chill.

The ski area Friday was far from the massive monster it will be after a few good days of snow when the rest of the terrain is opened. In the meantime, Steamboat’s hard core park and pipe fanatics tore it up in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park.

“I’m out here a lot right now because there’s nothing else to do,” local boarder Scott Tomaro said. “Everything else is super solid right now. They built this a lot better this year than they have in the past. The features are a lot smoother, and they have some bigger stuff, not just beginner stuff.”

Lil’ Rodeo is in its second year of existence at Steamboat. The idea was to create a park that would open early with the very first runs at Steamboat Ski Area.

Steamboat may not be known as a terrain-park mecca, but it has drawn plenty of praise for its Bashor Terrain Park, which features t­he massive Mavericks Sup­erpipe.

The only problem is that entire section of the ski area is roped off, and the features, superpipe included, have not begun to be shaped.

“We wanted to be able to provide that experience while some of our other parks were being built up,” ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. “We definitely noticed the increase in interest in terrain parks in the industry, and Steamboat responded by stepping up our efforts in our terrain parks.”

Lil’ Rodeo was created as a part of that effort, and that didn’t go unnoticed by the scores of skiers and riders who swarmed down the 12 features.

Some rode the rails, others practiced tricks off the park’s one giant feature and a few just slid to a stop off to one side to watch the show.

“The diversity of it’s pretty fun,” snowboarder Ronnie Prado said. “It’s been getting better every year. I just hope they keep putting more money into maintaining the terrain parks.

“This year, it’s set up a lot better, and it’s getting bigger.”

That’s not his imagination. Part of Steamboat’s efforts to improve its terrain parks included hiring Nick Roma, a park designer who previously worked at the Sunday River resort in Maine and later this winter will help design the BoarderX and SkierX course for the 2010 Olympics.

“We were lucky enough to get such a high-caliber team member who has obviously really stepped up our park offerings, and we’re really looking forward to what he does with our other parks,” Kasten said.

So are the skiers and riders who have tried to keep themselves content by heading to Lil’ Rodeo.

It’s much improved, they said, and a perfect place to wait for the snow and the bigger, more expansive parks the ski area hopes to bring on line later this month.

“It’s still nothing like the big park,” Conor Garrech said. “But it’s a lot better than nothing.”

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