The Case for the 12-Foot Pipe

How halfpipe skiing can become relevant again

Matt Berkowitz. PHOTO: GREG KEELER

Words: Ryan Dunfee

It was a beautiful Saturday during a February thaw in 2000, a prime day for my home mountain of Attitash. Their pride and joy, a brand new 500-foot halfpipe, New Hampshire’s longest, had opened two days before Christmas that season. It was a feat of East Coast terrain park construction made possible by a summer of dirt work. On this particular Saturday, a group of kids from the University of New Hampshire hiked from the base of the mountain to the pipe because they were too broke to buy passes.

James McGlynn alley-oop flair. PHOTO: COURTESY JAMES MCGLYNN

By noon, at least two-dozen additional skiers were hiking the pipe, the skis slung over shoulders an even blend between the first line of Salomon 1080s and Hart F17 flat-tailed mogul skis. Skiers dropping in from the left wall were hucking the first 900s any of us had ever seen in person. At the bottom, Matt Berkowitz—now Fischer’s Director of Marketing—was boosting giant alley-oop mute grabs eight feet out of the small transition. People were still hiking for runs well after 5 p.m. It was the golden era of amateur halfpipe skiing.

But then the Winter X Games served to fuel an arms race of halfpipes. With action sports biggest event constantly upping the size of their pipe’s walls, resorts threw hundreds of thousands of dollars in to dirt work, snowmaking, and pipe cutters to build the highest, biggest, longest, or steepest halfpipe in their region. Families with kids, middle-schoolers getting into park for the first time, and old guys—pretty much everyone who didn’t have aspirations of being a pro skier—stopped going to the pipe. Souring at the expense and the lack of interest from customers, many resorts scrapped their pipes, replacing them with cheaper and friendly jib parks. Attitash’s pipe has sat idle for years now, two dirt piles all that remain from those memories of sessions past.

It’s time for the return of the everyman pipe. If the “sport” of halfpipe skiing is going to grow or hold any place in skiing beyond the hyper-competitive sphere there has to be something between the mini-pipe, which is now often a barely-vert pair of banked walls for rank beginners, and the super-pipe, built for aspiring Olympic champions only. If we’re going to ever see amateurs hiking the pipe again—which I witnessed at Woodward Tahoe’s opening weekend and struck me as a sight as rare as seeing the aurora borealis—we need pipes that people will actually want to ski. So, resort guys, let’s dust off the old, tiny Zaugg in the attic and get to work. It’s time for the return of the twelve-foot pipe.