words: Pat Bridges
photos: Aaron Blatt
It is safe to say that Aspen has now played host to the most progressive halfpipe snowboarding seen in the second decade of the new millennium and no, we're not talking about the X Games. Unlike other so-called "revolutionary halfpipe projects," which were kept under wraps at the behest of individual interests, the Snow Park Technologies-built Red Bull Double Pipe spectacle that went down on Sunday, March 23, 2014 brought together a cross section of international transition talents to test themselves on twice the walls of a traditional stunt ditch for all to see. Upon arriving in Colorado, the assembled Olympic, X Games and Open series icons were greeted with two 22-foot high, 68-foot wide pipes erected side-by-side at the bottom of Aspen's Buttermilk peak, separated by no more than a narrow 4-foot wide deck creating a transferable spine. Make no mistake, adjasent halfpipes have been done before, most notably at Mt. Hood, Oregon twenty years ago where Noah Salasnek and company sessioned for Mack Dawg's cameras, and half-a-decade later for MDP's Technical Difficulties where Jason Brown strung together a jib transfer line across three halfpipes! So, while the idea of transferable transitions is nothing new, doing it to this extent with side-by-side superpipes is unequivocally next level, in turn yielding more consequence and allowing for a myriad of never-before-seen lines, tricks and creative interpretations.
Louie Vito, Scotty Lago, Benji Farrow, Scotty James, Arthur Longo, Scott Blum, Taylor Gold, Nathan Johnstone, Ben Ferguson, Gabe Ferguson, Greg Bretz, Jake Pates, Chase Josey, Markus Keller, Kent Callister and Christian Haller were the sixteen riders invited to Aspen for this first-ever "duel in the dual." The unconventional nature of the two-story spine, which forced riders to approach the wall with the counter intuitive intention of sucking up the vert and willing one's momentum out and over the deck proved to level the playing field right out of the gate. Greg Bretz broke the seal by going over the top on the first day of practice, paving the way for the field to get weird. Unfortunately for some riders like Ben Ferguson and Scotty James getting weird would also lead to getting wounded.
Despite the innovative venue, the Red Bull organizers took a purist approach to the Double Pipe competition format, allowing the invitees to have a hand in deciding how the event would be judged. It was unanimously decided by the athletes that there would be a two hour jam-style semis with individual runs being scored. From there, the top eight riders would be elevated to a three run final to arrive at the winner of the inaugural Red Bull Double Pipe.
Spine transfers, heelside ones in particular, proved to be the real separator, though each competitor needed a mixed bag to really bring it home. Non-podium placing crowd pleasers included Greg Bretz's backside 720 from left to right over the spillway of the spine and his backlips on the rider's left wallride; Benji Farrow's 50-50 270 out transfers over the mid-spine hitching post rail; Olivier Gittler's chicken wing McTwists; Scott Blum's multi-handplant runs, which included Andrecht to frontside 900 combos and T-Bag Frontside inverts to fakie hardway; Gabe Ferguson's mute backside 360 transfers; Markus Keller's switch alley-oops and alley-oop Mctwists; Louie Vito's back-to-back double corks; Scotty Lago's torqued off-axis spins and frontside lipslides to fakie on the rider's right wall; and lastly Christian "Hitch" Haller's backside 180 spine transfer, which was arguably the most death defying trick of the whole day.
Arthur Longo's subtle style is more substance than flash and his repertoire in Aspen was no different. Longo sent proper melon pokes to fakie on his spine-hip entries into slow rotated Haakon flips. Longo then toeside backside 360'd into a frontside 900, followed by a heelside backside grab transfer to frontside alley-oop, ending with a frontside 1080 double cork. While this run was good enough for a solid third place finish, Arthur did land a switch doublecork alley-oop backside rodeo in the semis, which had he found enough wall to attempt in the finals and land it, surely would have moved him up a few spots, perhaps even to the top.
Sun Valley Idaho's Chase Josey has spent this past season strapping in alongside some of the strongest up-and-coming riders on the halfpipe scene. Today he emerged from the middle of the pack to take a piece of the spotlight for himself with backside 900 hip entry airs to frontside double cork 1080's. Chase mixed up his wallride menu from backside launches off the top to backside rodeos in the main event. Chase's ending sequence of heelside frontside 180 transfers over the hitching post to switch backside 900's handily placed him on the podium in second.
The Taylor Gold who showed up in Aspen for the Red Bull Double Pipe is the same kid who emerged from the US Open two weeks ago as the technical grabbing, style savant, with a judge friendly bag of tricks and crowd pleasing backside air. As of late, Taylor has started to play with the pipe, mixing up his runs with each drop, adding spontaneity to his regimen and leaving onlookers guessing what he'll bring to the next wall. At the Double Pipe, Taylor handplanted the rider's left wallride, opened it up on upper deck base high backside airs, made tech tricks like switch methods look stock, and chucked a few double corks as a nod to those who might be nostalgic for the old days of halfpipe, when spinning to win could earn you a ticket to Sochi. From early on it was apparent that Taylor Gold was going to keep his winning streak alive and for his efforts he earned another well-deserved victory lap.
Like every contest write up, the prose that populates the previous paragraphs may be peppered with hyperbole but there is something tangibly exciting about what was brought to the halfpipe scene on March 23, 2014. The inclusion of the spine infused each run with several moments of anticipation as everyone in attendance eagerly waited to see if the next hit would be the formidable transfer. The unweighting and narrow margin of error upset the typical halfpipe rhythm. Knowing that a game of speed, strategy and trajectory were at play provided a new layer of drama to the tried and true halfpipe formula. All of these elements combined to create a fusion of multiple riding styles in one arena with the end result being part halfpipe, part slopestyle, part jibbing and believe it or not, part freeriding. Unfortunately a challenge more formidable than the spine transfer itself has emerged in the post Red Bull Double Pipe world and that is finding the support, resources and foreword thinking organizers to make unique events like this the new normal.