Since late February, a team manning large machines has been sculpting snow at Buttermilk. They’re moving and shaping the powder into a terrain park feature only tried once before. Professional snowboarders competed on the Red Bull Double Pipe during its debut last year. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
The Double Pipe is what you might imagine: two half pipes side by side with additional features like rails and jumps sprinkled in to make the competition more creative.
"One pipe is about 450 feet long, the other one is 400 feet long and there’s a jump above it," says Frank Wells. He works for Snow Park Technologies and his team is in charge of creating the Double Pipe. Today, he’s taking me on a ride in a snowcat outfitted with a big blade.
"We are going to punch out the rider’s left pipe. 'Punching out' is when we take the blade cat and make steps in the snow, pushing all the snow out of the half pipe."
We make our way uphill through one of the half pipes. Sheer, steep snow walls rise up on both sides. A machine called a Zog uses a long angled blade to shave thin snow layers off the smooth walls. This snow is recycled from the Winter X Games.
"The feature you’re looking at right now is made up of most of the snowmobile venue, all of the slopestyle, the half pipe, all of the big air and half of the border cross has been pushed into one feature," says Wells.
"It’s like tearing down a sand castle and rebuilding a new one," says Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Company.
To get ready for events like the Double Pipe, the company cranks up snowmaking machines at the beginning of the ski season.
"If you’ve ever been by the bottom of Buttermilk, you’ve seen that it’s used for a lot of different things," says Hanle. "We make a lot of snow there because we make a lot of big features. But, we can move that snow around throughout the season to adjust to different needs, all the way into July."
He says adding the Double Pipe to its list of offerings jives with the company’s mission to push snow sports forward.
"That’s where you see the evolution of the sport, and what’s next and where are kids going because that’s who’s going to drive the future of the sport - the younger generation. This is new, it’s something exciting, nobody’s ever seen it before, so to have it here at Buttermilk is exciting for us."
This year’s double pipe is slightly altered. Athletes said last year’s version was too difficult and tough to maneuver. Pro Snowboarder Taylor Gold of Steamboat Springs won last year’s competition. He says riding the double pipe is unique. He’s excited about the changes to the feature.
"Nobody has ever ridden anything like that, so to have the riders come in and adapt to something totally unique was a learning process and a fun experience. This year, having learned from last year, it’s going to be a lot more rider-friendly and I think it’ll look cooler too."
Gold made a decision Tuesday not to compete in this year’s event after a crash at a competition the week before bruised some of his ribs.
Back on the snow, Double Pipe project manager Frank Wells continues to push big piles of snow downhill, clearing out the half pipe. He’s constructed terrain park features at resorts across the globe. This one stands out.
"No one else has tried this. There have been different things tried with different types of snow, even things we’ve worked with like building bowls. But, this is unique to Red Bull and to Aspen, so it’s good to be back again."
The Red Bull Double Pipe starts Wednesday (3/11/15) with a “jam session” for the riders. It continues through Friday. NBC will air highlights on Saturday.