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Life on the Mountain

Superpipe Dreams at Sun Valley

The Key to Sochi Olympics?

Dec 20, 2012 - 11:34 AM
Superpipe Dreams at Sun Valley

Photos courtesy of Sun Valley Parks and Pipe Department.

Unsatisfied to play second fiddle, Sun Valley continues to make enormous strides in bringing its terrain park scene up to par with the nation’s elite mountain playgrounds. The resort’s power play this year: an Olympic-sized, 22-foot superpipe on the Old Bowl at Dollar Mountain, which is slated to open this Christmas.

“With the Olympics coming up shortly in Sochi, we feel that having a 22-foot superpipe will attract a lot of athletes here to train,” explained Sun Valley’s director of marketing, Jack Sibbach. Although the walls of Dollar’s halfpipe last season were already an intimidating 18 feet, the standard for superpipes has aggressively increased since the now ubiquitous 22-footer made its major competition debut at the 2008 Winter X Games.

Sun Valley isn’t the first resort to match the competitive expectations of athletes and coaches, who have openly avoided training on smaller pipes that are no longer being used in most major events. However, continued Sibbach, “The halfpipe has been a part of Sun Valley’s plan for three years now, in order for us to stay relevant with the youth, and we certainly think it is worth the investment.”

What kind of investment exactly? Beyond having 22-foot high walls, cut by the one-and-only Zaugg Pipe Monster, Dollar’s pipe will have a width of 54 feet and a length of 575 feet. That’s 10 feet longer than the world’s largest nuclear submarine and as tall as the Prinoth Beast, a behemoth snow groomer, turned on its side. All said and done, Sun Valley expects to dedicate 11 million gallons of water for snowmaking during the superpipe’s construction, which takes approximately 12 days.

As for its placement, said Michael Silva of Snow Park Technologies (SPT), which has managed the project, “The Old Bowl on Dollar Mountain is a perfect location to house a superpipe. Ideally, a superpipe is built on an 18-degree pitch to allow users the most flow possible when riding, so the geographical benefits alone give the resort’s pipe a great advantage.”

The prospect of a blue-ribbon superpipe has coaches, such as Andy Gilbert of the Sun Valley Ski and Education Foundation, extremely excited: “We’re finally going to have a pipe that’s the same size as the ones we compete in.” Of course, it’s going to be a big adjustment, but Gilbert doesn’t think anybody will regret the Pipe Monster’s creation. “It is actually more forgiving and easier to learn the fundamentals [on a 22-foot wall] than with an 18. You’ve got more transition to work with, more time to adjust. There’s typically also less sheer vertical on a 22-foot pipe, so it’s not as abrupt.”

But the biggest advantage to adding a new superpipe, considered Gilbert, is that up-and-comers, like Chase Josey and Ryan Roemer “won’t have to move to Park City or Mammoth to pursue a professional career as park or pipe riders.” And with the addition of both halfpipe snowboarding (introduced in 1998) and freeskiing (to be introduced in 2014) to the Olympic lineup, having gold-medal aspirations isn’t the pipe dream that it used to be.

It wasn’t so long ago, remembered Gilbert, that Sun Valley hosted the 1994 Western Regional Snowboard Championships. At the time, the resort hadn’t been sold on the merits of catching air and allowed only the racing events to be held on Baldy. For the freestyle portion, competitors were sent all the way to Soldier Mountain near Fairfield, Idaho. Coincidentally, Sun Valley will host the successor to the Western Regional Snowboard Championships, U.S. Snowboarding’s Revolution Tour, this March. Don’t expect halfpipe and slopestyle to be sent down the road this time. Instead, Sun Valley’s newest achievement, the trench of the gods, will be featured front and center. Concluded Silva, “Sun Valley’s guests should expect access to one of the nation’s premier, Olympic-caliber superpipes.”

For more on a few of Sun Valley's best skiers, check out these videos with native Wing Tai Barrymore destroying it in Snowmass and Colter Brehmer running around Dollar.

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