The ride of your life

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— There are some dedicated snow riders who aren't up first thing in the morning when 12 inches of new snow falls on the mountain, explained freestyle snowboard coach Derek Switzky. In fact, they might even skip that day altogether.

Those are the riders who stay in the halfpipe all day, who would like nothing more than a perfectly packed and groomed pipe to make their day on the mountain a good one.

"It's hard to ride a pipe with fresh snow in it," Switzky said.

Luckily, for those people, as well as local riders and skiers who duck into a halfpipe after doing some all-mountain terrain, the Steamboat Ski Area is now host to possibly the largest halfpipe in the world. In fact, it's so big, it's not even called a halfpipe anymore; it's called a superpipe. Officially, it's called Mavericks Superpipe.

Mavericks is 50 feet wide, has 15-foot walls that are straight up and down and is 600 feet long. To compare, last year's pipe had 12-feet high walls and was about 500 feet long.

"It's like a tunnel," Switzky noted while standing at the top of the pipe in Bashor Bowl.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said the decision to build the pipe came last year, mainly because the future of snowboard halfpipe competitions which is an Olympic event is in superpipes, not the traditional smaller-sized halfpipes that first popped up at ski resorts around the world.

Vail has a superpipe, Mammoth has a superpipe, Aspen has a superpipe and now Steamboat has one to top them all, she said.

"Mavericks is the longest pipe in North America," Polumbus said.

And according to what she has researched so far, it could be the longest pipe in the world, she said.

That means locals can expect more big-time freestyle competitions heading to Steamboat in the future. Switzky also explained local riders have the opportunity to ride a world-class pipe, which will produce better athletes.

"We've really had some positive feedback on it," Terrain Park Supervisor John Asta said.

Some pro riders have taken plenty of runs on the pipe since it opened Dec. 22, and Asta said they've been impressed.

"Everybody says it's the best pipe," he said.

Not only is it long, Asta added, its

15- to 16-degree pitch is perfect.

Switzky, who coaches the best up-and-coming snowboarders for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said the transitions from flat in the middle to straight up and down on the walls also are very smooth. There is less danger of "bucking" back into the middle when turning off the wall now.

That doesn't mean people new to a pipe shouldn't be careful, because there always is a chance to get hurt. However, riders and skiers who do learn how to ride in a pipe have one more avenue of the joy on the mountain.

"It's basic fundamentals," Switzky said, pointing out a few techniques snowboarders should remember when entering the pipe.

Knees should be bent and shoulders should always stay parallel with the board. In other words, even when a rider begins an ascent up the wall, their body should remain at a right angle to the board not reacting to the wall by leaning back or forward.

"Traversing edges is huge," Switzky said.

Riders should stay on their heel edge when riding up the wall on their backside.

After making it to the highest point, make a slight hip movement to turn the body 180 degrees, turn the shoulders and head down to the ground to commit to the landing. Then, touch down on the toe edge.

Stay on the toe edge going into the frontside wall and heel edge going into the backside wall, making the transition to each edge while turning the body in the air, he said.

"It's not easy," Switzky said. "It takes a lot of practice."

It also takes patience, an ability to lose the fear of the speed and height and to be able to relax between each wall, he said.

"This is probably the best pipe in the world right now," Switzky said.

So, local snow riders can take advantage of a world-class pipe, right in their backyard.

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