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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2003


Something for
the young at heart

Halfpipe adds pizazz to Warm Springs

Express Staff Writer

With the opening of its new halfpipe, the grand dame of American ski resorts is being relentlessly drawn into the new aerial world of rodeo flips, McTwists and alley-oops.

For years, local snowboarders and freestyle skiers have been watching halfpipes and terrain parks pop up at ski resorts throughout the country. Almost everywhere, it seemed, except Sun Valley.

The problem was finding a good site. Most of Bald Mountain is just too steep. In 1999, a halfpipe was built on Dollar Mountain. But the pipe didnít fly at that location. This summer, Sun Valley Co. gave up some of its precious novice terrain to put a 400-foot-long pipe on Lower Warm Springs.

"The location is ideal," said Sun Valley Snowboard Team Program Director Andy Gilbert. "Itís going to be great for people to sit on the deck and watch."

The ski and snowboard halfpipe is located on the skierís left side of Lower Warm Springs, below Race Arena. The U-shaped terrain features are about 400 feet in length, 40 feet wide, with walls about 12 feet high.

The halfpipe was designed by Alpentech, an engineering company in Salt Lake City.

"The whole idea of a halfpipe is to have exactly the same feeling replicated at all ski areas," said Alpentech owner Beat Vonallmen.

Sun Valley Co. will dedicate a snow cat to grooming the halfpipe. It will pull a device called a halfpipe grinder, to maintain the pipeís radius.

How much will all that cost?

"We donít know," said Sun Valley Co. Sales and Marketing Director Jack Sibbach. "Weíve never maintained one."

Whatever the cost, Sun Valley Co. will try to recoup part of it by requiring all users of the halfpipe, whether they ride the lifts or not, to have a lift ticket. Joe Miczulski, recreation and winter sports specialist at the Ketchum Ranger Station, said the U.S. Forest Service has authorized that policy.

"Itís a constructed feature, similar to the lifts," Miczulski said. "Itís an amenity that Sun Valley has put a significant effort into building and maintaining."

As of press time, the halfpipe was not expected to be open by Thanksgiving. Sibbach said the pipe requires more snow than do the ski runs.

"Itís not going to be open until we get some help from Mother Nature," Sibbach said. "We have to get the rest of the mountain open first."

Nobodyís more excited about the new halfpipe than the members of the Sun Valley Snowboard Team. Gilbert said that until now, the team has been making do by building jumps at various places around the mountain and by practicing occasionally on the halfpipe at Park City, Utah. The athletes have also taken advantage of the hour or so of practice time they get before each competition at other resorts.

"Itís going to help enormously," Gilbert said. "Weíre probably going to get some young kids taking to it very quickly."

The snowboard team has about 90 members, about double the number five years ago.

For kids less interested in competition, the Sun Valley Ski and Snowboard School offers its All Mountain Sports Team. The weekend program includes snowboarding and skiing on all types of terrain and in all kinds of conditions. That will now include the halfpipe.

Travis Thelen, the ski and snowboard schoolís snowboard supervisor, said the first thing to learn about riding the halfpipe is that the etiquette is different than it is on the rest of the mountain. He advises riders to give people ahead of them plenty of time, and to announce their entry as they drop in.

Both Gilbert and Thelen caution novice halfpipe enthusiasts about going for big air right off the bat. They advise people to take their time getting a feel for it and to follow proper etiquette to avoid collisions.

Thelen said initial lessons will incorporate what people have already learned on the mountain. Then riders will learn how to maintain their speed and to set up to catch air.

He said novice ridersí biggest misconception is that they need to push off the wall to get air. The idea, he said, is to let the pipe launch you, and to land as high on the wall as possible.

"At first you only get about a foot of air, but you look down 15 feet below you to the bottom of the halfpipe," Thelen said.

From there, riders graduate to simple grabs, then a 180-degree rotation. A rider doing a 360-degree rotation in a halfpipe, unlike on a jump elsewhere, will land backwards.

"What you want is slow, smooth rotations," Gilbert said.

The next big step is to add inverted moves.

"A lot of inverted airs are becoming standard tricks now," Gilbert said. "Kids are coming up with stuff in the pipe that people didnít think was doable the year before."

Gilbert is urging local riders to be careful on the halfpipe, but to get out and use it.

"Sun Valleyís made a big commitment to this," Gilbert said. "Itís up to riders in the valley to show them this is a worthwhile thing. "



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.