By Dan Egan EBS Contributor
The Olympic movement has been embracing the halfpipe. Snowboarding the semi-circular ramp has been part of both the Torino and Vancouver games, and for this year’s Games in South Korea, men’s and women’s freeski halfpipe will be featured for the second time in the Olympics. Prior to the games, event organizers anticipated it would be a sell-out crowd.
Both snowboard and freeski halfpipe events have been a game-changer, offering a cookie-cutter winter sporting event that can be duplicated at resorts around the world.
The standard “Super Pipe” is 500 feet long, 65 feet wide, built on an 18.4-degree pitch, and the walls are 22 feet high. Duplicating this structure at resorts and major events has allowed athletes to perform scripted runs that allow them to perfect their maneuvers. It’s also pushed the progression of the sport, which is the motivation of every skier and rider.
At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the snowboard halfpipe was the marquee event, with over 30,000 people in the stadium watching U.S. superstar Shaun White, one of the highest paid Olympians, win his second Olympic gold medal. His yearly earnings at the 2010 Olympic Games were rumored to be north of $10 million.
Four years later, at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, White was earning over $20 million. Now, with his massive come-back for the 2018 Olympics, he’ll be by far the highest paid athlete at the PyeongChang Games.
“An Olympic medal is the highest honor in sports,” White said in a press conference before the games. “This will be my fourth Olympics, and I’m completely comfortable with the pressure that goes on at the games.”
The expectations are high for both the men’s and women’s freeski halfpipe, based on ticket sales, sponsorship and the viewing audience.
For Team USA, David Wise is the defending Olympic gold medal champion and multi-time X Game gold medalist, and Gus Kenworthy, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, is back and predicted to land one step higher on the podium.
On the female side, Maddie Bowman is a four-time X Game gold medalist and the defending Olympic gold medalist from Sochi. She’s one of the most decorated freeskiers ever, and her teammate Devin Logan is the defending silver medalist from 2014.
The evolution of halfpipes has been slow and steady since the 1970s and ‘80s, back when the event was limited by the grooming technology.
X Games medalist Mike Nick, originally from Albany, New York, was a pioneer in both ski boarding and skiing halfpipe.
“Years ago, the halfpipes were never the same from event to event, different shapes, lengths and the walls were uneven,” Nick said. “Today’s pipes are perfect and standardized. It was hard to come into an event with a set run and predetermined tricks back in the old days.”
While the halfpipe is exhilarating, both for spectators and athletes alike, it’s also a dangerous sport. Sarah Burke of Salt Lake City, Utah, the most famous female skier in the halfpipe, died during a training run in Utah in 2012.
Burke’s legacy was a big story during the Sochi Olympics, and also brought home the realities of the dangers of this sport. Competitors regularly come up short or overshoot the walls, and injuries range from fractured bones, concussions to traumatic brain injuries.
PyeongChang has an amazing stadium built for viewing the halfpipe event and in both ski and snowboard, it’s predicted to be one of the most viewed events during this year’s Olympics.
Men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe wrapped up Feb. 13, with White winning the United States’ 100th all-time gold medal in the Winter Olympics. U.S. snowboarder Chloe Kim took gold for the women.
However, skiing the halfpipe is yet to come. The women’s freeski halfpipe qualifiers begin Sunday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m., with the finals taking place Monday, Feb. 19, at 6:30 p.m. Men’s qualifiers will follow at 9 p.m., and the men’s final round will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan has appeared in 12 Warren Miller ski films and countless others. Today he teaches clinics and guides trips at locations around the world including Big Sky, where he’ll be teaching Feb. 22-24, March 1-2 and March 8-10, as well as throughout the season (contact Big Sky Mountain Sports for availability). To find more information on Dan Egan camps and clinics, go to skiclinics.com.