Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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March 23, 2014
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Double Pipe competition moved to Sunday

Day One of the first-ever Red Bull Double Pipe competition on Buttermilk Mountain was called off because of less-than-perfect weather conditions, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm many of the athletes have to compete in the initial side-by-side superpipe offering.

The two-day competition officially was condensed into a one-day event after the competing snowboarders met Saturday morning and decided to wait for better weather conditions today.

Ben Ferguson, 18, from Bend, Ore., is one of the top boarders in the U.S. and took fifth place at the 2014 Winter X Games Snowboard Superpipe in Aspen. Ferguson said he agreed with the decision to delay the Double Pipe competition.

“The weather wasn’t quite cooperating,” he said. “It’s been cloudy and windy, and now we’re getting some snow, so it’s not the best conditions for a halfpipe contest. If this was any other competition, we’d be riding right now, but since this is a new type of contest, they’re really listening to the riders. We got to say how we felt as a group, and we decided that we shouldn’t run it today. I think it was a good call.”

The revised schedule for today has the semifinals running from 10 a.m. to noon, with the 18 snowboarders competing in a live-ranked jam session and the top eight advancing to the finals. A jam session is where the riders can go up and down the course in no particular order but get judged on each run.

Finals will run from 1 to 3 p.m. Each finalist will take three runs with their top single score counting in the finals. Scores are determined using a 100-point scale, with style, creativity, technical abilities and use of the course the scoring criteria.

Many of the riders are nursing injuries from a long season of competition and took Saturday as a bonus day of recovery.

Greg Bretz, 23, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., took the bronze medal at the 2014 Winter X Games Snowboard Superpipe and was a member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. He placed 10th in the men’s halfpipe final at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Bretz had an obvious limp and welcomed a day off Saturday.

“It’s been a really, really long season, and my body is beat up,” Bretz said. “I’m ready for some time off. I’ve been doing a lot of decking and a lot of landing flat on this course. It’s still fun, but it still hurts.”

Bretz said despite being a little beat-up at the end of the season, having the chance to try something groundbreaking like the Double Pipe was too good to pass up.

“It’s such a cool opportunity to ride something like this,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. The hardest part, for me, has been trying to link together a full run in both halfpipes and using my creativity to the fullest.”

Each superpipe has 22-foot-high walls and is 550 feet long and 68 feet wide. The two pipes are separated by a 4-foot spine that has one notch in it to allow the boarders to cross between the two pipes. Together, the pipes stand 180 feet wide and represent the largest superpipe structure ever built by Snow Park Technologies, the same company that designed and created the Winter X Games halfpipe in Aspen as well as all the U.S. Open superpipe courses in North America.

Chris Gunnarson, the founder of Snow Park Technologies, said the thought of having the riders take on a totally new type of competition in challenging weather led to the postponement Saturday.

“It was a combination of things,” Gunnarson said. “The pipes were firm because we’ve had spring conditions. It was wet and tacky Friday during the day, then got cold last night, so the course set up pretty firm. All by itself, that wouldn’t be a big issue. These riders are used to firm halfpipes, and that actually makes for great conditions, but when you combine that with really difficult visibility and the on-and-off snow, it can be challenging. Those three conditions combined made for a decision that was largely led by the riders to hold off until Sunday, which looks really good for weather.”

Gunnarson’s endorsement to delay the competition carries a lot of weight, as he’s earned the trust of the riders and course officials from years of consistent course design and development.

Louie Vito won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter X Games in the Snowboard Superpipe and was a 2010 U.S. Olympic team member. He said a course built by Gunnarson is going to be the best and knows the double superpipe will be no different.

“Gunny (Gunnarson) from SPT makes the best parks,” Vito said. “They’re also the ones who are there listening to how we need to fix this and that. When they build a course, you know it’s going to be done right.”

Gunnarson explained that putting this course together was more like a puzzle. From the day they started, his crews worked around the clock for 14 days.

“We’ve built a lot of pipes and built some creative pipes, but putting two side-by-side with the option to transfer over the spine in the middle with full 22-foot X Games height has never been done,” he said. “It wasn’t so much we had to knock down the existing pipe; we really more filled it in. We definitely knocked one wall down, mostly filled it in, then built everything up from there.”

During the three days of practice this past week, Vito said the vibe among the riders has been much different. The heavy weight of winning has been replaced with a mixture of fun and fascination as the boarders experiment and learn new techniques with the double pipe. Vito said anytime he can branch out with his creativity, it elevates his experience on the course.

“It’s cool to be able to go out with these guys and do our thing without the pressure of having to win,” Vito said. “This isn’t really a contest to me. We have a lot of friends here, a lot of people that work in this industry, like photographers and such. It’s cool just to have some fun and share some time with my friends here. I do enough serious contests every year that I’m really glad to have a chance to enjoy myself without the overriding pressure of winning. I’m having a lot of fun riding certain features and being able to do double runs with some of the guys. Yesterday I got to do a double run with Todd Richards, a huge mentor and good friend of mine. He’s a legend in this sport and to be able to do a trick with him was kind of a dream come true.”

Gunnarson said he isn’t sure if the Double Pipe is necessarily the wave of the future for boarding competition, as building the side-by-side courses would be challenging in many of the locations that hold superpipe events. He’s hoping the event comes back to Aspen because he already sees it as a great venue for a double pipe.

What Gunnarson really appreciates is the creative concept of the dual pipes and giving the competitors and fans something different to enjoy.

“In our world, if we’re not constantly progressing and creating new opportunities to do something different, we run the risk of becoming stagnant and complacent,” he said. “That goes against everything our company is about and everything I think this sports is about. This week, I’ve seen a lot of athletes who usually have to get into a rigid, competition mindset now thinking outside of the box. I’ve seen creativity, innovation and progression, which I see leading to a crescendo with tomorrow’s final. That’s the neatest thing for me.”

The Red Bull Double Pipe contest will air on NBC at noon Mountain time April 12.

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 23, 2014 06:38PM Published Mar 25, 2014 01:06PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.