words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt
Coming off an Olympic year in which excessive pressure around global halfpipe standings and pristine pipe conditions shaped the season, the post-Sochi haze was finally lifted on July 21st with the Third Annual Merrill Minipipe Invitational hosted at High Cascade, an event that eliminates the stock run and provides an outlet for an array of tricks that aren't able to be present on the global circuit. What began as an opportunity for some of snowboarding's best and most creative riders to assemble for a midsummer reunion, in three summers has become a congregation for some seriously unique transition tricks, eschewing the standard fare of dude tube contests for runs that include liptricks, handplants, and still allow for overhead airs.
The diversity of tricks is, of course, due to the eclectic group of snowboarders in attendance. It's not often you get to experience the variety of riding styles that forty-four competitors in the MMPI present. Street savvy Forest Bailey, Desiree Melancon, and Harrison Gordon; backcountry destroyers Dustin Craven, Blake Paul, and Eero Niemela; veritable legends Chad Otterstrom, Shane Flood, and Nate Farrell; master turners like Brandon Cocard, Scott Blum, Tim Eddy, and Chris Beresford—the list of registered riders is in itself a definition of the runs that went down during this year's iteration of Bode Merrill's brainchild.
The first half of the contest was in two-run format. As SNOWBOARDER's own Pat Bridges called out riders on the mic, the drops began. It was fast, creative, and despite the technical nature of many of the tricks, casual. Poachers, including Olympians Danny Davis and Kaitlyn Farrington lapped through the minipipe and over and around the tombstones built up on each wall. Highlights were plentiful: second place finisher from the previous year, Brandon Cocard's rodeo into the pipe and lofty alley oop methods; Blake Paul's barrel roll to crippler to backside Andrecht; Scott Blum's Andrecht entry to frontside 900 followed by another Andrecht; Nils Arvidsson with a frontside five lein to Andrecht to alley oop five to liptrick; Tim Eddy's surfy line midway up the wall; Nils Mindnich's go that included a same hand double grab and a pick pocket…the list goes on. It was clear early on that the judges had their work cut out for them.
Coloradan Chad Otterstrom, who last competed and won at Mt. Hood in 2005, spun frontside, backside, alley-oop and switch before ending his run with a backflip. While Otterstrom had come to Oregon to coach up and comers, he showed there's no better way to lead than by example. His run bumped him into third place.
Red Gerard, at only fourteen years old, has not yet entered the global superpipe circuit, but his display in the ten-foot walls of MMPI pipe yet again showcased the potential we're sure to witness as this grom grows up. Making the halfpipe almost appear regulation size compared to his small frame, Red linked a front seven crippler to a switch alley oop crippler high above the coping. Those hits and some smooth laybacks landed Red in second place. Unfortunately, he's not yet old enough to get into the bar for awards, so his older brother Brendan accepted his prize money in his place and was able to get out of the building with it before the crowd descended on him calling for the 100% rule to go into effect.
It was clear from Austen Sweetin's first double-overhead air that he was making a play for the podium, combing floaty methods with tech handplants, like a run-ending eggplant to fakie. While the transitions on a regulation-sized superpipe assist the rider in gaining height, the shallow walls of the High Cascade minipipe require significantly more pressure and pop, making Sweetin's all-time air time that much more impressive. His efforts were rewarded with first place overall, a grip of cash that prompted a rapid fire celebration at the Charlie's afterparty, and a trophy handcrafted by Zeachman. Congrats, Austen.
In addition to the overall best runs, the second half of the contest was a freeform jam. As riders hiked the sides of the pipe and headed down to Palmer for to take laps before dropping in again, Bode took over the microphone and summed up why the contest is so much fun by explaining the loose rules of the session: "Do whatever you want, we're making up the awards as we go." At this time, the planters really came out and threw down both one hitters and runs combining some of the hardest-to-nail hand-down tricks. Dustin Craven landed the elusive warlock on the tombstone (an alley oop rodeo plant), Nate Farrell put down a heinouschuck, and at one point, Scott Blum dropped in, possibly attempting a no-footer air, and earned himself the best crash of the day.
While the Merrill Minipipe Invitational is an opportunity for friends to reunite during the summer season and take on one of snowboarding's most celebrated snow shapes, the beauty of the event is that without even trying, it has become much more than that due to its inherent lack of seriousness. Bode Merrill, along with sponsors Salomon Snowboards, Billabong, Skullcandy, .anon, and High Cascade are injecting the contest season with a competition that deviates from the norm and instills necessary inventiveness into the halfpipe discipline. There are no stock runs at the MMPI and there are no typical trick requirements in order to stand on the podium. When a person begins, "this is what snowboarding needs," the Merrill Minipipe Invitational is the end to that sentence.
With the close of the MMPI, the sun has sent on the SNOWBOARDER Summer Games and Blake Paul was awarded a new set of Nexen tires to for the best performance over the course of all of the SNOWBOARDER Magazine Summer Games events. Congrats, Blake and see everyone back on the glacier next year.
Thanks to Bode, all the riders, High Cascade Snowboard Camp, Salomon, Billabong, Skullcandy, .anon, and Nexen Tires.
First: Austen Sweetin
Second: Red Gerard
Third: Chad Otterstrom
Fourth: Scotty Arnold
Fifth: Alex “Littlest” Sherman
Sixth: Chris Beresford
Seventh: Nils Mindnich
Eighth: Colin Langlois
Ninth: Garrett Warnick
Tenth: Blake Paul
Best grab: Ozzy Henning with frontside nuclear nose grab
Best crash: Scott Blum
Best handplant: Dustin Craven, warlock on the tombstone
Best poacher: Jay Hergert
Best Flip: Nate Farrell with a heinouschuck
Summer Games Best Overall Performace: Blake Paul
The Merrill Minipipe Invitational is part of SNOWBOARDER Summer Games. Stay tuned for more photo and video coverage from each of the Summer Games events. Nexen Tires is the official tire sponsor of the SNOWBOARDER Summer Games.