Carvers prepare Buttermilk half-pipe |

Carvers prepare Buttermilk half-pipe

Steve Benson

They’re a different breed of sculptors, using large machines like intricate tools to carve what is perhaps the world’s most renowned half-pipe.

All week at Buttermilk, a crew from Snow Park Technologies has been collecting, pushing and molding snow into the mountain’s earth-dug pipe in preparation for the Winter X Games. Today they’ll start cutting it. By Sunday, it should be open to the public.

Brought in every year specifically for the X Games, crew members from Snow Park are regarded as the world’s premier park- and pipe-building experts.

The current crew at Buttermilk is comprised of general manager and founder Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson, Mike Binnell, Frank Wells and Jeremiah Pebley.

“Every one of us is crucial to this thing,” Gunnarson said from a cell phone in the pipe’s gut on Wednesday. “This is just a really solid collaboration between Buttermilk, Aspen and ESPN. It’s a big team effort.”

While the pipe was dug into the ground in the summer of 2003, manipulating the snow with snowcats to fit the wave-like walls and floor is an annual challenge.

“They basically build the pipe,” said Mike Kaplan, Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations. “There’s a lot of snow in there, basically in the middle, but in big piles. Day by day, hour by hour, they push snow in the right places and prepare it for the cutter who creates the final surface. It’s a lot of blade work.”

And the finished product is a thing of galactic beauty. Visible from Highway 82, the enormous pipe resembles a launching pad for some far-off space station.

“It’s so visible and when it’s lit up at night it’s just so cool,” Kaplan said. “It’s big and long, and when it’s in perfect condition it’s the best [pipe] out there.”

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