'Tis the season for whitewater, and if early signs are any indication, it's going to be an epic year for much of ski country (sorry, Tahoe). While running wild rivers is every paddler's goal, play parks are a great way to practice maneuvers, surf, even compete. There are tons of waterparks nationwide - one of the best known is downtown Missoula's man-made Brennan's Wave on the Clark Fork River, but Curbed Ski has chosen to focus on actual parks with more hydraulics, engineered or otherwise, that cater to paddlers, SUP'ers, even surfers. The good news is that there are more ski town water parks under construction, so pray for snow. Next summer could get even better.
Truckee River Whitewater Park, Reno: Yes, it's kind of weird to slalom in the midst of casinos, tacky neon, and tall buildings, but this is one hell of a popular park (and the only one in the country smack-dab in the middle of a downtown resort area). There are 11 large drop pools and obstacles for various skill levels on this half-mile course; when you're done working up an appetite, head for one of those $9.99 buffets (if you dare).
Rutherford Whitewater Park, Whistler region: This balls-out course is Canada's first and only "purpose-built artificial whitewater park," but that didn't stop the 2009 BC Whitewater Championships from being held there. After a four-year closure due to public and official concerns about its level of difficulty (it's been said to be virtually unusable by all but the most elite kayakers), it reopened this season and has the support of CanoeKayak B.C. and Surf Pemberton, who have been working to raise funds to maintain the park, keep it open next season, and rework the course to make it more user-friendly. If you've got the credentials, get out there and crush it.
Boulder Playpark: As the gateway to ski country, it was impossible to leave out this truly exceptional, old-school run built before the advent if teeny-tiny play boats. Located near downtown in Eben G. Fine Park at the mouth of Boulder Canyon, Boulder Creek is always a good time, but this year will be exceptional (that said, the September floods have likely altered things). Whether you've got a creeker or a playboat, take on the slide drops, squirt lines, and holes. Beware Widowmaker, a notorious post-bridge drop (novices should portage; in fact, this year, novices should avoid this park entirely, unless you're with a reputable guide).
Vail Whitewater Park: A favorite comp site, this gutsy course on Gore Creek run right through Vail Village. If you're looking for something that's convenient, challenging, and gives you a built-in audience, this one's for you. Cool trivia: there's a computer-operated adjustable wave feature.
Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park: River surfers love this place, mainly because it's got a wicked wave, but you'll also find SUP aficionados out there. The aforementioned wave, interestingly enough, is the first man-made whitewater feature on the whole of the Colorado River. Bring plenty of your own water- for drinking- because it can get furnace-like in Glenwood.