I love Halfpipe Snowboarding and Freeskiing.
I love riding Halfpipes, I love to watch people ride them and I love being involved in coaching athletes to ride them. I am concerned however that the number of people getting into this incredible and exciting sport is decreasing at the entry and intermediate level. I see more and more big empty Halfpipes when I am away from events where I get to coach some of the best in the world.
So, I have been thinking about why that is and what to do to encourage people to get into it. To find the expression, creativity and passion that pushes these high level riders to do incredible things on the world stage.....
The birth of Halfpipes and Parks
with the growth of the sport 1980–1998
Very early on in snowboarding the surfers and skateboarders were stoked to have found a new place to go and get rad, the snow. They were banned by most ski areas they tried to go to, so much of those early days were just hiking around in the mountains in California, Colorado, Vermont and across the ocean in into the Alps of Europe. As they learned to turn left, right and hopefully how to stop, it was not long before they all started to seek out gullys, ditches and verty lips which they could slash, carve, hand plant or air out of in the manner that you might see in a concrete skate park, vert ramp or on a pumping wave.
From this stage on the skills and numbers of boarders grew super fast. Soon the ski areas had to allow the new rebels on the scene on the lifts. By the mid 80s ski resorts where in. They started building snowboard parks, halfpipes and quarter-pipes all around the world. These early parks quickly became incredibly popular as wild eyed riders would play all day. The jumps were small, the Halfpipes looked more like drainage ditches with little jumps built at the top of the bank. It was all about fun and falls.
The progression in equipment, skills and population in snowboarders exploded. With masses of boarders hitting the slopes, the resorts started pumping money into parks, hosting events and fueling the fire. Snowboard magazines and videos filled glass cases at the local shops and the buzz was ablaze.
The progression also came with the development of transition building machines that would carve out perfectly shaped halfpipes and well groomed parks. The shapes were still relatively small, and the stunts were never very far from the ground. Even the very best riders would take tumbling falls with a smile on there face because it was just fun.
Although Halfpipe snowboarding and competitions were growing at an amazing rate through the 90s, the first really big year was 1998 with the introduction of Halfpipe snowboarding into the Nagano Olympics, and the X –Games was born. Between 1980 and 1998 the sport had gone from a wild bunch of rebels flopping around in the backcountry to a full on Olympic Sport. Even then the Halfpipes were still pretty rough and only between 12-13 feet deep. Just a baby compared to the masterfully built 22 – 24 foot deep Super Pipes that were just 10 years away.
Below is the Howelsen Halfpipe in Steamboat Colorado. Training grounds for US Team riders (2016 X-Games and World Cup Gold Medalist) Matt Ladley, Joe Eddy, (Olympic Bronze Medalist) Shannon Dunn, Taylor Gold, Arielle Gold, Maddy Schaffrick and others
The Resort Rush to have
Bigger “better” Halfpipes 1998-2010
During the late 90s Halfpipe had become quite popular. With the Olympic event and X-games being well received and a new stock of pipe shaping machines coming in a wide range of designs and sizes popping up world wide. Many resorts had invested in building Halfpipes from coast to coast and north to south. These Halfpipes took a moderate amount of snow making and mechanical resources to maintain, but became a selling point to the young riders and families buying lift tickets. It was good for business. Competitive snowboarding programs boomed and regional level events where highly attended near and far.
Then something happened over the course of about 5 years. First was the introduction of a 15 foot pipe groomer, which was basically just a 12 foot with an extension to cut a taller wall. Whoa that is big they thought. Then came the 18 foot HPG (HalfPipe Groomer) and Zaugg machines. Compared to the 12 foot halfpipes these were significantly bigger.
The bigger size was great for the top 10 % skill wise, because they could get more hang time with a safer longer transition for take offs and landing. This allowed for bigger tricks, more spins and more and more flipping tricks were being landed. The bigger Halfpipes became highly demanded by the competitors and their families that wanted to provide the competitive edge for their up and coming superstar. It became a selling point for mountains that could afford to blow twice as much snow and the cost of the new bigger machines, as well as a new demand of the competitive teams and riders that had learned to ride in smaller pipes and where ready for the bigger size.
While this was amazing for the upper level riders and programs that had access to these bigger halfpipes, it created the beginning of a new and widening gap in the number of mountains that had smaller halfpipes. Competitors and hopeful competitors started leaving their home mountains with smaller pipes to be where they had a bigger pipe. Parents and coaches would beg and plead for their home mountain to build a “Super Pipe”. However, many of these smaller mountains with a plateau in snowboard / skier numbers and the elevated cost of what was seen as the must have pipe size could not step up to build bigger pipes. It was not cost effective. So smaller mountains and programs started to shrink and many mountains that once had competition level Halfpipes just 10 years earlier stopped building a Halfpipe.
Then came the 22 foot Zaugg Halfpipe Cutter, the current machine to have when building the even bigger and current competition standard for World Cup events, the X-Games and the Olympics. Now there are just a hand full of the competition sized pipes in the world. While fewer and fewer mountains build smaller ones.
This is Taylor Gold and Ben Ferguson at the top of the X-Games Pipe in Aspen
Okay, so Promoting the Health of Halfpipe?
The problem with just a few huge Halfpipes to ride
and fewer and fewer smaller Pipes.......
Anyone who has watched the Olympics or the X-Games sees the incredible level of these daring athletes. They fly 20 feet out of the pipe and spin and flip multiple times each hit on their way to the podium. I love it. I live for it. I am worried for the future of it. As a development coach I am fortunate to be posted up at the top of the pipe at these big events and know many of the riders. I am grateful towards the riders for their talent and style and youthful passion in showing the world what can be done on a snowboard.
So, what’s the problem?
If you are a beginner or intermediate rider watching that on TV it is exciting to say the least. However the thought of going and dropping into a 24 foot monster of a Halfpipe pipe seems like suicide. It can be extremely intimidating and terrifying for people that have not had the chance to work their way up by riding smaller halfpipes. So younger or less skilled riders just stay away from it.
I have 2 main points here-
1. Small Halfpipes are FUN, valuable in developing the fundamental skills of riding a Halfpipe and can be profitable to the smaller mountains, resorts and regional programs and snowboard schools.
2. Our sport needs Small Halfpipes everywhere to encourage riders of all ages and levels to learn the skill and joy of pumping transitions, good edging and riding a Halfpipe that is built to their level. This will grow the number of riders and skiers that learn to pump transition and are able to eventually ride a bigger Halfpipe well.
From a deeper pool of athletes introduced into the sport and allowed to progress through the sizes of pipes that the sport itself did, we will find the new stars of the future.
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Thank you for your attention
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