Skiing and snowboarding, like riding a bike, isn’t something you soon forget. But while I’m pretty confident I could still hit the slopes effortlessly after a decade off-piste, it doesn’t look like I’ll be putting that to the test anytime soon. Or ever, if climate change has its way.
Time was, I’d turn to videogames for my snowsports fix. Folks my age all fondly remember the SSX games on PS2, although—Xbox-owning kid that I was—it was the slightly more grounded (if equally arcadey) Amped games that got me hyped to tear up snow. But lately, it’s felt like videogames’ slopes are a little emptier than they used to be.
Oh, sure, Ubisoft has had a go with games like Rider’s Republic and Steep, but they’re so busy trying to be five different extreme sports that they sort of forget to be fun. Ubisoft isn’t alone in looking to hit the slopes these days, however, and I’ve been riding with two very different snowboarders that aim to capture two very different parts of the snow-shredding experience.
The first of these, Shredders, hopes to do to snowboarding what games like Session and Skater XL did for skateboarding—a simulationist take on the sport that wants you to really feel like you’re mastering control over a piece of wood.
It works, too, when you’re simply carving a path down a mountainside. Shredders really does capture the feeling of sliding on and off piste, slaloming to build and manage momentum. Unlike skateboarding, snowsports are so much about the joy of exploring and traversing a slope, the challenge coming from surviving steeper slopes with icier conditions.
But like Session and SkaterXL, Shredders also wants to be about pulling off sick tricks, and that’s where the comparison is less favourable. Snowboarding is inherently a much clunkier sport—a longer board means you spin slower, and it being strapped to your feet removes the flashier flips possible on dry ground. The controls for jumping, spinning and backflipping also feel a little imprecise.
Yes, it’s probably accurate that I can’t land a backflip in real life and a videogame. But I also can’t kickflip, and at least Session throws me that bone. Still, even if it’s not quite there with the tricks, Shredders’ vast mountain is still a joy to carve across—assuming you can put up with its “hello fellow kids” approach to writing.
Ski slopes, when they’re good, are a web of intersecting paths and hidden routes, and while it’s been well over a decade since I last visited one, I have intensely fond memories of discovering and untangling their full scope (and less fond memories of getting lost on the wrong side of a Finnish mountain).
That’s the foundation for Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands, a game that’s less about simulating snowsports than it is replicating the feel of being on a weekend ski trip. Picking either skis or board, you start out with simple runs on beginner’s tracks, slowly unlocking more routes and challenges connected by a network of chairlifts and cable cars.
The best part? Riding those lifts takes time, and while you can speed it up, it lends a sense of scale and pacing to runs. Just like real skiing, you take a shot at a slope, then get to recover and plan your next route on the way back up.
Pulling off tricks and carving lines is trivial compared to Shredders, but that’s not really the point here. Grand Mountain Adventure is a playful snowsports toy, a tilt-shifted diorama shot from a birds-eye view to make it feel even more toylike. My only real gripe is the way camera rotation is locked to the character—having the entire screen swing wildly with every turn is a little nauseating, to say the least.
Snowsports might not be having the same gaming renaissance as skateboarding, but these two games echo much of what I loved about those street-surfers. Big-budget takes on snowsports need to be massive, maximalist affairs—and where that used to give us the high-energy, globe-hopping likes of SSX, that approach had bloated and diluted the genre to the point they need to include wingsuits and mountain bikes to justify their scale. In comparison, these smaller projects can hone in on why we love throwing ourselves down frozen hillsides.
Real-world snowsports are prohibitively expensive and, as the world heats up, slowly diminishing. But from the joy of carving out a downhill path to exploring a frozen mountain at high speeds, these games can let us return to the slopes even on the most sweltering summer days.
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