PORTLAND – The hill at Payson Park has long been known as a top sliding destination. Now, its reputation as a ski and snowboard terrain park is about to get a big boost.

On Wednesday, the city’s recreation department and the Ski Maine Association announced a new series of winter sports events that they hope will expose more youths to the park and to skiing and snowboarding. They also showed off new upgrades to the winter playground, including snow guns that sprayed a layer of powder across the grassy hill Wednesday.

“The creation of this snow terrain park doesn’t just mean that kids have a place to ski or snowboard, it also means that young people that may never have had a chance to try these great sports can,” said Mayor Nicholas Mavodones.

The program, called Wednesdays in the Park, will feature giveaways and ski and snowboard professionals from Maine ski areas who will help kids learn the sports. Starting in January, it will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, coinciding with early release days for Portland schools.

“I look forward to the next Seth Wescott cutting his or her teeth here at Payson Park,” Mavodones said, referring to Maine’s Olympic gold medal snowboarder.

The city and its partners also introduced improvements to the terrain park, which is next to Ocean Avenue.

Ski resorts donated rails and boxes for ski and snowboard tricks, and the city used fill from constriction projects to shape and build up the elevation of the ski and snowboard area. The terrain park is separated from the sliding area by a small snow fence.

The city’s new snow-making equipment was donated by someone who read a newspaper article last winter about the snow park. The cost of operating the machines is being covered by the Ski Maine Association, Quirk Chevrolet and Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard.

The free municipal terrain park was created in 2007 and is believed to be one of just three in the country.

“Kids were making their own ramps out of (wooden) pallets. We didn’t think it looked that safe,” said Jeff Tarling, parks and forestry operations manager for Portland.

Tarling brought in ski companies to help design a terrain park with real bumps, jumps and other features. “It’s a nice feature for the city to have,” he said.

Tarling said the ski areas and Ski Maine have been enthusiastic supporters, and aren’t afraid of losing business.

“We’re a winter playground. The ski areas are really like Disneyland,” he said.

Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine, said it’s a great hill for kids to learn, experiment and get some midwinter physical activity. The lack of lifts to carry them up the hill won’t bother kids, he said.

“Even when you’ve got (lifts), you’ll see kids walking up to the top of the terrain park and ‘sessioning,’” he said.

Officials plan to start Wednesday in the Park on Jan. 5, as long as the weather cooperates. The snow guns will be able to supplement and freshen up the natural snow, officials said, but it will take a real snowstorm or two to create a solid snow base.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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