VAIL, Colorado - If you're going to build a superpipe, go big or go home.Vail's Golden Peak Superpipe is North America's largest and is open in time for next month's Burton U.S. Open snowboard championships.
You might think a bigger pipe is more dangerous, but it's not, said Ben Boyd, snowboard coach with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.At next month's Burton U.S. Open, the elite men fly 15 to 18 feet off the top of the 22-foot superpipe. That's soaring 40 feet above the ground."If you're going that high, you want everything to be as safe as possible," Boyd said."People think that because it's bigger it's more dangerous. They're actually safer in the bigger pipes."There's more room to learn in and more room to land in, room for big air and big mistakes, Boyd said.Once upon a time when snowboarding was young, a halfpipe was 10 to 12 feet high, mostly because that's about as high as snowboarders could pile snow with their shovels.Those early half pipes were round on the side but had flat bottoms. You could land a trick and still get hurt."If you landed on the bottom you might injure yourself," Boyd said.That, and snowboarders were trying all sorts of death-defying stuff.As the riders went bigger - more complicated tricks and flying higher - halfpipes also improved.These days, a halfpipe is elliptical from the bottom to the top, Boyd said."It's just technology," Boyd said. "The boards are better. The pipes are better."
Lee Crane tells it this way in TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine:The whole thing goes back to skateboarding. By the mid 1970s, skateboarders had graduated from riding flat streets to drainage ditches and swimming pools.Back then, snowboarding was an outlaw sport, and resorts didn't see it as a market they wanted to attract. So, snowboarders had to find their own fun. Riders in the Lake Tahoe area found it first, in 1979, on the edge of a city dump.Those early pipes were modified natural terrain, nothing more.In 1983 Tom Sims, founder of Sims Snowboards, organized the first World Championships at Soda Springs, Calif. Snowboarding was a small and fussy world back then. The Burton crew threatened to boycott those first world championships because they said halfpipe riding had nothing to do with snowboarding.And the halfpipe was pretty terrible - it was just two rows of snow chunks about four feet high.By 1986, the World Championships moved to Breckenridge where the ski company built a pipe, about 150 feet long, 60 feet wide with walls about 5 feet high and no vertical. It was bad, but it was better than anything Soda Springs built.Breck got the hang of it the next year, greeting the world championships with a pipe 200 feet long, 40 feet wide with 6 foot walls that went nearly vertical. When the contest was over the pipe remained and the general public loved it.Hoerter and everyone else who sculpts halfpipes can thank Colorado farm machinery mechanic Doug Waugh for making their jobs possible. Waugh built his Pipe Dragon in 1991.Waugh's Pipe Dragon was towed behind a snowcat and was the first machine designed to groom a curved shape. Vail used it that year. So did Eldora, Snowmass, Buttermilk and Copper Mountain, according to TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine.Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.