Russian half-pipe comes into question
February 10, 2014
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — Steamboat Springs snowboarder Taylor Gold stood at the bottom of the half-pipe at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, and was aghast.
Across the board, riders from all over couldn't believe what they'd just ridden.
"Yeah it's definitely interesting," Gold said on the eve of men's half-pipe competition and after the last training session. "It's the worst pipe we've ridden this year. The walls are pretty good, but the flat bottom there is too much snow in it. It gets really rutted up. After the first run, it was really dangerous. I think it's terrible."
It was a sentiment many riders held.
Earlier in the day, American Danny Davis called the pipe garbage, setting off a media firestorm in the aftermath.
The pipe was nearly unrideable Sunday, Gold said.
The walls were shaved Sunday night, but Monday's weather did the competition no favors.
Temperatures approached 60 degrees, and Monday morning’s training run was changed to be held in the evening. The warm temperatures turned the snow into a sand-like substance.
Washboard-like bumps were visible in the center of the pipe during Monday night's training and during each pass, riders would bounce around.
It caused them to lose speed, and crashes on the half-pipe were more common than at any time this season.
"It's a little better” Monday, Davis said. "A little less bumpy. But it's pretty bumpy in there still. Anybody that watched practice (Monday) can see it's a battle in there."
New Zealand-based company Development Snowpacks made the pipe and already made several changes after riders complained the edges weren't up to standard.
Usually Nevada's Snow Park Technologies is given the contract to do pipes like the ones at the U.S. Grand Prix and X Games.
Crews on Monday were expected to use salt and chemicals to try to get the pipe from melting.
“I think they understand what's going on and there might be some reputations on the line here of half-pipe builders,” Davis said.
The men's half-pipe is scheduled to begin with qualifications at 2 p.m. (3 a.m. Steamboat time) Tuesday.
"We want to have best event possible, obviously. If the pipe was perfect every week and it was an indoor event, it would be figure skating and we'd be on an ice rink," U.S. coach Mike Jankowski said. "I don't think any of us want that. We're out on the mountain and conditions change every day."
Still, it could create an interesting — albeit controversial — competition Tuesday.
Gold said the way the pipe is will force riders to go smaller. In a sport based on progression, that's something no one wants to see, he added.
"I think it will be about landing runs (Tuesday) and not about throwing your hardest stuff and falling," he said. "I'm sure a lot of people will go for broke, and maybe in finals (I will), but definitely in qualifying I want to be landing runs and that will get me through. It puts everyone at a disadvantage."
Several riders, though, said all competitors have to ride the same pipe. It brought up thoughts of four years ago in Vancouver when the half-pipe faced similar challenges. Warm weather at Cypress Mountain had riders calling the pipe one of the worst. Crews were able to do enough to make it feasible, and the two best riders in the world at the time — Shaun White on the men's side and Torah Bright on the women's side — each prevailed.
"I always look at it is an opportunity," said Kelly Clark, who earned gold in 2002 and bronze in 2010. "Any less than perfect pipe I've dealt with the last four years, I've said 'If this is what we're dealing with in Sochi, I want to be ready.' So I worked hard to get ready for any sort of condition. I left the pipe (Sunday) night feeling more prepared for an event than I ever have."