‘It’s always been a dream’: Duo who built Copper halfpipe to build Olympic pipe too
December 6, 2017
COPPER MOUNTAIN — Jake Ingle estimates he and his halfpipe-carving buddy Mark Pevny worked 130 hours last week to ensure Copper Mountain Resort's halfpipe was ready for this week's U.S. Ski and Snowboard Grand Prix.
"This year was an insane struggle," Ingle said.
It was such an extensive grind, due to lingering warm temperatures, that in order to perfect the 520-foot-long, 67-foot-wide and 25-foot-tall Grand Prix pipe, the lifelong snowboarder Ingle compared himself to a long distance truck driver.
"We basically live in those snowcats," Ingle said between sips of Starbucks coffee. "I always joke that I need one of those — like a trucker — a burrito heater and a coffee machine in there."
"Well, he's got the little mobile cappuccino machine" Pevny added.
The cappuccino machine may help to keep progress going inside the snowcat, but it's on the outside of the snowcat where Ingle has welded on a metal tube of a rig that holds the antenna to his RTK GPS. It's a device, much like a fisherman's depth finder, that enables Ingle and Pevny to construct as close to a geometrically perfect halfpipe as possible.
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"It's, like, centimeter-accurate equipment," Ingle said.
Being "centimeter-accurate" is the name of the halfpipe-carving game for the Michigan man Ingle and his partner Pevny — Copper's resident halfpipe cutter — in order for the independent contractors to build some of the world's best halfpipes.
Their list of accomplishments over the past decade include state-of-the-art pipes at Mammoth Mountain in California, numerous pipes in Park City, Utah, and, of course, the Grand Prix pipes at Copper.
But it'll be at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Ingle, Pevny and their Austria-based halfpipe-cutting colleague Alli Zehetner will achieve the paramount honor in their profession. It's one that comes around only once every four years: To build the Olympic halfpipe.
"It's always been a dream to build the Olympic pipe," Ingle said.
"The athletes look at the Olympics as the pinnacle of the sport, right?" Ingle added. "So they want the Olympic pipe to be the best pipe so they can push the sport in front of the biggest audience possible. And I don't think they were able to achieve that at (the) Sochi or Vancouver (Olympics). The conditions of the pipe didn't lend to it being the pinnacle of the sport. But we feel like we have a shot this year at pulling that off, which could be something quite amazing."
Ingle and Pevny are after the same thing whenever they start a new job, and the Olympics are no different.
"The sickest pipe in the world," Ingle says.
Breaking it down by dimensions, in an ideal situation Ingle says the perfect halfpipe might be about 650 feet long and 70 feet wide with an 18.5 degree pitch.
The one he, Pevny, Zehetner and the rest of the team will build in Pyeongchang will approach those dimensions, at around 600 feet long, 70 to 71 feet wide and with an 18-and-a-quarter degree pitch.
Pevny and Zehetner will travel to South Korea to begin construction on Jan. 15. It'll be at the same exact location where Ingle, Pevny and Zehetner built an Olympic test pipe of the same dimensions for last February's World Cup event. It's one Ingle described as a success despite steep fluctuations in temperatures and Northeast United States-like humidity. By the end of the World Cup, the trio felt they had a strong grasp on what Phoenix Park's "dirt work" would enable for the Olympic pipe, in terms of how long and steep they could make it.
But it was the language barrier in South Korea that proved to be the most difficult element of constructing last February's template pipe for this February's Olympics.
Ingle described building a pipe at Copper "like coming home." After he studied ski area management at Gogebic College, Ingle interned in 1997 at Copper, a career move that eventually led him to design his first halfpipes, about a third the size of the ones he builds now.
Copper also has snowmaking and snowcat crews that essentially speak the same snow-making language as Ingle, making the build more efficient. Typically for Copper's Grand Prix pipes, Ingle is allotted 15 days to build and is working with employees he described as "dialed in."
Over in South Korea, Ingle, Pevny and company will have 22 to 25 days to complete the Olympic pipe.
"Just to make sure everything is perfect," Ingle said.
Ingle and Pevny both spoke glowingly of the snowmaking and halfpipe-creating infrastructure the South Korean organizing committee has invested in for their team to use. And though the language barrier has complicated things, Ingle and Pevny have tried a little bit of everything to not have things be lost in translation. That includes Pevny's purchase of a book to learn Korean, the use of a mobile phone application to translate American text to Korean, and — most importantly — befriending a man named "Chicken" and a man named "One Man."
Ingle and Pevny described "Chicken" and "One Man" as essentially their South Korean consiglieres who facilitated instruction between the Americans and South Korean workers and volunteers. And things were made a little bit easier because "Chicken," the park manager at Phoenix Park, had worked previously with Zehetner when the Austrian worked on the Olympic slopestyle course in Sochi in 2014.
"They were our main men," Ingle said. "They spoke decent English. They got the point across and could take that and go make things happen."
Ingle returned to South Korea four weeks ago for one last look before he is set to build the pipe next month. While there, the South Korean winter not yet arrived, he used his GPS equipment to do some early surveying to assess changes in the "dirt work," between last February and now, as some grandstand infrastructure has been erected since. He also looked at Phoenix Park's halfpipe cutter machines, tallied their snowcats and determined if any final spare parts were needed.
Come two months from now, Ingle, Pevny and company will put their final touches on the 2018 Olympic halfpipe. Per usual, their own personal ski and snowboard runs down the pipe will serve as the first assessment of how well the job went.
And, come Monday, Feb. 12, when the women's halfpipe qualifications kick off their specific halfpipe's time at Pheonix Snow Park, they hope the Olympians will be happy.
"We will probably be the first ones to ride it," Ingle said.
"You know, based off what we did at the test event," Pevny added, "if we can build off of that just a little bit, it'll be one of the better halfpipes of the year and the athletes will have that chance to progress and show the world what snowboarding and free skiing is about."