Half-pipes developed in the late 1970’s after it was discovered that dried out swimming pools could be skateboarded in. If the pool had a smooth curve or ‘transition’ from the flat bottom to the edge of the pool (the bit where the tiles normally are) the skateboarders could catch air by riding up, turning 180 degrees in the air and then re-entering and doing the same on the other side of the pool. Before long, wooden ramps were built that took out all the un-necessary parts such as the stairs, drains or the bowl effect and left only a ‘U’ shape for going up, turning, and coming back down. When snowboarding found its legs back in the early and mid 80’s it was a wish to emulate skateboarding tricks that led to natural gullies and valleys to be shaped into downhill half-pipes, leading directly to the man made half-pipes that sit in nearly every resort these days. Hence, most tricks in the ‘pipe have skateboarding roots and skateboarding names and any session will generally hark back to a more communal vibe than any other facet of snowboarding. The pipe can be a picnic place, a stop through on the hill, or a great meeting area. While you’re there, have a drop in. It’s a fun thing to do.
Tackling the half-pipe for the first time can be a daunting prospect. It’s a hard skill to master and takes time, patience and a little go-for-it attitude if you’re to leave the lip of the pipe and sail over everyone’s heads. But it is rewarding. Half-pipes are perfect for getting a lot of air in a short span of time and they will tire you out more than any kicker ever will, especially if you have to hike up the pipe for every run you do. Now initially this may seem a bit of a pain in the arse, but never under-estimate the amount of info you’re taking in watching other riders hitting the walls. You may learn what do and what not to do, and of course you’ll be participating in that timeless practice of being involved in a ‘session’, with all the whooping and hollering you could wish for. Maybe someone will shout ‘yeah’ when you first leave the lip? If you give enough encouragement to others you might get the shout yourself.
To ride the pipe you should be very confident in turning and riding most terrain and have a pretty decent grasp on snowboard fundamentals; turning, stopping, coping with speed and riding switch if you’re to try the air to fakie (you’ll need to ride out switch). Now the pipe can be a fairly unforgiving place, with the obvious danger of falling straight into the flat bottom being a nasty prospect, but by taking things easy and watching others ride it, you should be fine.
Visualisation is such an important tool and absolutely everyone from the total beginner to the world champion benefits from it. So please do use it.
The pipe, is one of the most demanding forms of snowboarding in terms of both board control and balance. A half-pipe is usually around one hundred metres long and between fourteen and eighteen metres wide. The width will depend massively on the depth, but pipes can be anywhere from two-and-a-half to six-and-a-half metres deep. Anything above five is considered a super-pipe.
The hardest part of pipe riding is the fact that you have to ride on demand. What this means is that you come straight out of one trick and into the next, and for the unprepared this is a very daunting prospect that usually ends in a loss of control very early on. But the key to learning to ride pipe is to realise that the walls are your friends.
Most people enter a pipe and try to ride straight at the wall, but the size of the very steep looking snow wall ahead of you is enough to deter anyone and this is where the most common mistake is made. It’s instinct, but if you turn away from the wall you turn downhill which will automatically increase your speed. It means that everything starts to happen a lot quicker and it’s a downward spiral from thereon in.
Once you’ve mastered the equation that holding your line will often stop you before the lip and the apex of your turn will be very slow, things get a lot easier to work out. There are a gifted few who can truly ride pipe with grace but whether or not you are one of them is irrelevant. Learning to ride pipe forces you to control your board’s edges, ride tight transitions and perform at the demand of the terrain, not your whim. In return, you will be rewarded with airs that skaters can only dream of and legs like tree stumps from hiking pipe all day.
Don’t stress if you’re not learning to ride pipe very quickly. It’s a hard thing to do and because you’re riding vertical walls can feel like a very foreign environment. If it didn’t feel strange there would be something wrong with you. Take your time, progress gently and do it with some friends and encourage their progression. Above all, try your hardest and enjoy the very strange feeling of getting air in the pipe. Don’t forget, it’s a very strong lineage back to the 70’s and there’ve been some pretty soulful people who have spent their lives riding transitions. You’re joining them every time you drop in.
Pipe Etiquette: A Few Random Pointers
Pipes can be incredibly intimidating places if you are new to them, so to help you out here are few tips and hints that will help you break down the barriers of local hierarchy and give you an insight into the do’s and don’ts of using a pipe.
Any pipe in good condition should have people riding it. Occasionally you may find an empty good one, but in general if there is no one riding a pipe it’s either because it’s in bad condition or there’s two foot of powder. If you do find an empty pipe, have a good look at it before you ride it to check it is safe. If it looks in good condition (i.e. the transitions are smooth, the vert doesn’t go backwards, it’s not too kinked etc), be happy that you have a pipe to yourself. If it isn’t then don’t try to ride it, as it will be very hard and quite demoralising to try and learn in.
When you arrive at any good pipe there will be a mixture of locals and tourists, although the level of riding will depend on where you are.
If you’re in Europe, the chances are that there will be a lot of tourists, because in European resorts most people travel and there are fewer locals.
In America, there are more people who live closer to resorts and use them after school or at weekends, so the number of locals will be higher. All this means is that there will be more people in the pipe who know what they are doing. Don’t be intimidated, because they are not going to resent you for wanting to learn, but prepare yourself for the fact that if the pipe is full of confident riders then you are going to have to wait in turn to drop in. If you fancy it, you can just sit down and watch and see how the queuing system works. Half-pipes (and skate parks, come to think of it) have an at first seemingly incomprehensible set of ‘rules’ or hierarchy when it comes to dropping in. It’s based on everyone sessioning the pipe being aware of when it’s his or her turn to drop in, so ensuring that everyone can have a fair crack of the whip. Obviously though, there are people who don’t adhere to these rules and drop in whenever they want. This is called snaking, and often happens when a pipe gets really busy and people become increasingly desperate to get a run in. If you’re learning, it’s usually best to let these people go in front of you rather than have them behind you as these tend to be the most serious people in the pipe who get a tad vexed when things don’t go their way.
When you get to the front of the queue, let the guy in front of you reach the first hit so as to leave plenty of time between the two of you so that if he falls you are not going to run him over. It’s worth bearing in mind that the better you get, the more ‘across’ the pipe you will go instead of ‘down’ it, so if the guy in front of you is good and cutting hard across the pipe it might be an idea to leave him a little more time.
When you’re riding the pipe, try to ride up each wall rather than just slashing at the sides as this is what kinks and damages transitions and is the best way to rile the locals and the shapers.
If you fall (and you will: absolutely everyone does!) then try to assess the damage as quickly as you can. If you think you’re OK to move then do so because people might be able to drop in without seeing you. If anyone falls over in front of you check that they are alright and if need be, stop anyone else dropping in.
If you’re dropping in from the platform and the pipe is busy and has a run in mound, make sure that anyone further up the pipe knows that you are dropping in. A quick shout and a raise of the hand will usually do the job, although if you need to you can ask someone hiking the pipe to check and see if there is anyone coming before you drop in off the platform.
Above all else, remember that the pipe is for everyone and it is for fun, it is not worth having an argument over and no matter how good you are you have a right to ride the pipe. If you are in any doubt, ask someone! They’re actually pretty friendly places if you start to have a chat…
Flatbottom - The flat connecting the two walls of the pipe.
Transition - The curve of each wall.
Vert - The vertical part of the wall at the top of the transition.
Lip/Coping - The top of the wall where the vert meets the platform.
Platform - The walkway at the top of the wall.
Frontside wall - If you’re regular, when you look down the pipe the wall on the right hand side is your frontside wall. If you’re goofy, it’s the one on the left. So as you turn on this wall, the front of your body will be facing out of the pipe towards the platform.
Backside wall – The opposite of the above applies: if you’re regular, your backside wall is on your left as you look down the pipe; if you’re goofy then it will be the right. As you turn on this wall, your back will be facing the platform.
Pipe Dragon - Pipe Dragons are attachments for the front of piste bashers that cut a perfect quarter circle, allowing long transitions to be cut in uniform.
Fakie/Switch - Riding backwards.
Snaking - Jumping the queue to get a run.