words: Pat Bridges
photos: Aaron Blatt
Since its debut at Soda Springs, California more than three decades ago, the evolution of the snowboard halfpipe has been both linear and predictable. While great strides have been made to develop techniques and machines that can more efficiently sculpt a flawless arc out of snow, the end goal has always remained obvious, leaving the progression largely up to those icons who dare to soar above these frozen creations. As the biggest airs at events like the US Open and X Games near a theoretical ceiling and trickery becomes less comprehensible with each additional rotation, twist and cork, the question of "what's next" is becoming increasingly relevant. To that end, in 2014 Red Bull created the Double Pipe as a grand experiment to see if the world’s top transition riders and shapers could come together in Aspen, Colorado to change the halfpipe paradigm as we know it.
The Double Pipe approach isn't exactly a novel concept. First seen at Mount Hood, Oregon in the early nineties, side-by-side stunt ditches didn't survive the halfpipe's twenty-year growth phase as world class contest venues went from head-high, hand-shaped ditches to 100-yard long, 22-foot tall monoliths. Along with this bigger is better initiative came an emphasis on consistency since affording riders a familiar platform from contest to contest could help them best find their comfort zone despite doing ever more defying maneuvers. Then there is the simple economics. The resources required to build a 22' superpipe are enormous and the main reason why there are currently less than ten world class, competition-ready halfpipes in the North America as opposed to nearly one hundred at the onset of the new millennium.
While proof of concept took precedence with the Double Pipe's debut in 2014, the sophomore effort took the lessons learned a year earlier and built upon them in obvious ways. For starters, the inaugural Double Pipe setup was rather conservative with stock transitions and a spackling of wallrides and rails accenting the spine and deck. For 2015, the riders were greeted with a traditional jump to start their line. From there, the riders’ right pipe emerged with a cannon jib launch up to a widened left spine wall deck. Riders were then faced with the choice of sending an air over a 20-foot wide channel or using the channel as an entry point for the reciprocal pipe. The top section of the double pipe was equipped with a traditional 22-foot transition and the requisite vert. Beyond the first section, the spine was taken down four feet to facilitate transfers. Towards the bottom all walls were equaled at eighteen feet with wallrides bookending the decks and the spine bulging into a volcano-esque multi-approach feature.
Despite the hype that a spectacle of this sort generates, it is hard to convey just how experimental this setup still is. As a freestyle discipline, Double Pipe remains in its infancy and despite the addition of two more walls it really is a level playing field. Riders who are podium regulars trade tricks with newcomers on equal footing, as everyone is a rookie when it comes to the Double Pipe. This is why slopestyle stalwarts like Stale Sandbech are no less the favorite than a multi-time X Games Medalist like Louie Vito.
Though few riders remained on their feet from top to bottom for a whole run on Thursday, March 12, 2015, that isn't to say that the second annual Red Bull Double Pipe was lacking in highlights. Though it isn't a requisite or explicitly stated, with this setup it's all about the transferring. Forcing oneself to willfully suck up the vert and favor their momentum out and over the deck as opposed to preparing for re-entry is contrary to the best practices these elite riders have honed their whole careers. It is akin to hitting a two-story tall jump at full speed where the landing is only a yard away and a mere 20-feet long!
Those contenders who were able to navigate the spine both frontside and backside, particularly within the larger section at the top of the pipes, were justifiably rewarded by the judges. Finishing third at the 2015 Double Pipe was Australia's Scotty James who is a veteran of two Olympics in two different snowboarding disciples. After setting down a switch backside 1080 on the lead jump, Scotty dropped in fakie backside and sent it over the channel with a cab double cork 1080. Over the spine the Aussie put down both a frontside 180 on the 22-foot section and arguably the smoothest backside three transfer of the day at the bottom.
As the most celebrated slopestyle rider on the Double Pipe roster, Norway's Stale Sandbech was an anomaly whose take on the transfer was highly anticipated. Not only did Stale high mark the 22-foot spine with a frontside transfer but he also spun a frontside alley-oop three over his backside wall before finishing off with an exaggerated backside three over the volcano to earn second place.
With a second place finish in 2014, Hailey, Idaho's Chase Josey still came to Aspen as a Double Pipe underdog. Yet the nineteen-year-old’s subdued style would once again treat him well at Buttermilk. Chase's first run began with a cab 900 off the upper booter which set him up to drop in for a lofty backside rodeo over the channel gap. After coming out of a frontside double cork 1080 backwards, Chase floated over the 22-foot spine fakie to a switch alley-oop backside rodeo 720. Making his way back to the riders right pipe via a backside three, Josey then proceeded to pop a crippler over a wallride until concluding his efforts by taking an alley-oop 720 real deep over the volcano. Josey's efforts earned him one place higher on the podium this year at Double Pipe. While these three riders received the trophies at the end of the day, there were many more in Aspen who were it not for slight miscalculations within their trajectories could have been in the money. Both frontside and backside 720's were stomped over the transfer at some point during the last three days. Even Ben Ferguson rode out of a backside rodeo transfer! These are the moments that truly show the potential of the Double Pipe.
NAME NAT CITY YEAR OF BIRTH SPONSOR
1. Chase Josey USA Hailey, ID 1995 Capita
2. Stale Sandbech NOR Oslo 1993 Oakley
3. Scotty James AUS Warrendyte 1994 Red Bull
4. Gabe Ferguson USA Bend, OR 1999 Burton
5. Benji Farrow USA Breckenridge, CO 1992 Zion
6. Jan Scherrer SUI Ebnat-Kappel 1994 Nike
7. Ben Ferguson USA Bend, OR 1995 Burton
8. Arthur Longo FRA Les Deux Alpes 1988 Volcom