This week, Breckenridge is hosting the first stop of the Winter Dew Tour for the third year in a row. The Nike 6.0 Open runs December 16-19 and, since they've completely redesigned the Freeway terrain park and halfpipe for this year's competition, we headed up for a sneak peek and a quick chat with Breck's Parks & Pipe director Nik Symon on the first day the Breck Freeride team got to test out the new 22-foot superpipe.
Westword: This thing's enormous! What goes into getting a 22-foot superpipe ready for an event of this caliber and these kind of athletes? Nik Simon: The first part of it started over the summer, with some dirt work to build some of the infrastructure so we could save snow and make it more efficient and quicker to build. And then secondly we have our snowmaking crew. They are one of the biggest parts of this, behind the scenes. They made the perfect snow this year and I can't thank them enough. Once we got our snow we started on the right wall, gradually building it up. Then we chainsaw cut it and flipped it to the other side to finish to the left wall. It was about a 5-week build, and then it's a daily process to keep it in good shape.
WW: I'm already hearing people calling this the best pipe ever. To the extent that there are now Olympic standards for halfpipe competitions, what are some of the distinctions that can set a pipe apart from the rest? NS: Some pipes can be a little too steep, or they can be too flat. Under 17 degrees isn't going to be a lot of fun. In my opinion, the floors and walls are the most important things. If you can't have a floor in the pipe that lets you keep your speed and continue your tricks all the way down, that's a huge deal, and you'd be surprised how many pipes have a bumpy ditch running through the length of the flat-bottom. If the walls aren't straight, then the riders are not going to go for those bigger airs. Snow quality is important, too: We process this snow constantly to give it a chalky feel, so you don't have that blue ice nightmare where you can't get an edge. We want it basically so it looks like sugar. The bottom line is, because of the caliber of riders we're attracting, we have to go for perfection.
WW: Is there any difference between the competition pipe people will see on NBC this weekend and what they'd be coming up here to ride on any given day for the rest of the season? NS: No, none at all. We cut our pipe every single night, and my goal is to make it a competition pipe every day. We really go for it, and we want to make it so when people come here, they leave thinking, "That was the best experience ever."
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WW: I know some of the Olympic track pro athletes don't even want to ride in the old 18-foot pipes anymore. What are the advantages of the bigger pipe? NS: The walls are bigger, obviously. The speed that you have to carry is a little greater, and we're seeing much bigger tricks as a result. But overall, a 22-foot pipe is actually safer than an 18-footer because there's more transition. Let's say you pop a little too much... you're not going to go to flat bottom, you're still gonna land in the transition, because, again, these walls are just huge. When you've got kids going 24 feet out and hanging like 46 feet above the bottom of the pipe, you can feel a lot safer: If they catch a little gust they're still going to land in the transition and slide out. The professionals feel safer in the bigger pipe, and that's why they're going way bigger. And, as far as the average Joe goes, I think it's the safest pipe there is. It's just an overall better product. The 18-footer was great and it did its job for us, but it was time to take that next step.
WW: People throw the word "progression" around a lot in these sports. As somebody working on the infrastructure level to facilitate that progression, what's your perspective on your role in helping push snowboarding and skiing forward? NS: Well, we take it pretty seriously. As the riders step it up, we have to step it up even more to keep up with them. Here at Breck, we've always had a solid, solid product, and I think we've really picked it up another notch to host the Dew Tour, knowing that we'd have the best of the best here and that they'd be a really discerning bunch. They want perfection, and we've redesigned the pipe and the entire Freeway terrain park to give it to them. It's a whole new package.