words: Pat Bridges
photos and captions: T. Bird

The Bode Merrill Minipipe Invitational is turning into a big deal. What began as an opportunity for one of snowboarding's true characters, Bode Merrill, to assemble a group of like-minded riders to reunite midsummer for some fun in the sun, friendly, low-impact transition trickery has become a serious contest. A seriously fun contest, that is.

With the Sochi Games nearly six months away, every halfpipe showdown has taken on an added air of importance and this excitement was very evident at the High Cascade Snowboard Camp minipipe on Saturday June 29th, 2013. Forty of the biggest names in minipipe riding gathered to show that style and creativity can still have a place in competitive snowboarding and hint at what we can expect come February 2014 in Sochi.

Noticeably absent from the Minipipe Invitational start sheet were most of the major icons of the world halfpipe circuit. Many media outlets have speculated that celebrated shred stars like Shaun White, Iouri Podladtchikov, Louie Vito and Peetu Piiroinen abstained from attending the Merrill Minipipe Invitational because the condensed halfpipe and looser format don't favor their predictable contest regimen. It stands to reason that any riders coddled by the forgiving dimensions of a 22-foot dude tube would avoid the precise specs and confines of a mini-pipe. Yet a handful of savvy pros could reap the benefits of having attended the Merrill Minipipe Invitational come February if the Sochi skeptics are proven right, and the Olympic Halfpipe that the Russians erect is subpar. It is then that a rider able to chuck an overhead crippler on an 8-foot high wall will have a major advantage over the huckers who heave two-story double corks in immaculate conditions. This is why wildcards like Scotty Arnold, Mike Ravelson, Garrett Warnick and Randy Vanuurden should still be considered Olympic hopefuls.

To some, ten-foot high walls would be considered a governor, yet for those sideways standouts who find substance in style, these limitations let the truly creative icons shine. Ben Bilocq was the only Canadian competitor at the MMPI and his brand of halfpipe reform included switch Andrecht drop-ins, cab tailgrabs and alley-oops. Forest Bailey double grabbed on his hip-entries and ended his routines with big ol' barrel rolls. Johnny Brady paired technicality with amplitude on frontside grab alley-oop 540 corkscrews. Colin "The Panther" Langlois kept it clean, classy, and classic with full extension palmers and frontside spins for days. Jaeger Bailey sent it upside down on both walls with nollie frontflips and crippler variations, as well as alley-oop McTwists. Bend, Oregon's Alex Lopez cab 270 slashed and settled several handplants including frontside inverts and the elusive fakie eggplant to regs, aka "The Gary Coleman." Even Alex "Littlest" Sherman made his mark with an inverted aerial of his own. Russell Winfield still rips and his timeless stinkbug style made him a crowd favorite.

The podium performers at the MMPI included Kyle Lopiccolo who boosted alley-oop Japans into third place. A heavily-bearded Brandon Cocard's backside rodeo hip airs and nosebleed alley-oops were good enough for a well-earned second place finish. The winner of the Second Annual Merrill Minipipe Invitational, and currently America's best hope for Sochi halfpipe success, was none other than Scott Blum. @blottscum sent alley-oop 720's, switch frontside inverts, backside wildcats and other agro moves to dominate the event all day.

The Merrill Minipipe Invitational isn't just a chance for Bode and his buddies to give 'er, but also an opportunity to give back. In order for snowboarding to right its own compass we need to take ownership of our events and use our figureheads to affect change. Too many pros take themselves too seriously. The MMPI is a refreshing reminder that snowboard competitions don't need to be stodgy, jock showdowns. Contest can be rife with fun, style, sick airs and above all else, free cosmos at the afterparty. Much thanks are due to not only Bode Merrill for hosting one hell of a good contest, but also High Cascade Snowboard Camp, anon.Billabong, Crab Grab, Cobra Dogs, Skullcandy, and Salomon, whose support made the MMPI possible.