(Super) pipe dreams: Halfpipe has come long way since a ditch in Tahoe City in the 70s

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Bud Fawcett / Courtesy of Mike Chantry Terry Kidwell hand plants at the Donner Quarterpipe in 1986.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; Shaun White owes a heartfelt thank you to the Lake Tahoe skate rats of the late 1970s.

Because without them, there might not exist the finely manicured, giant snow ditches with the smooth vertical walls on which he makes such a comfortable living.

He can credit Mark Anolik, who in 1979 discovered what became known as the first-ever snowboard halfpipe near the site of the Tahoe City dump. Terry Kidwell and#8212; aka the Father of Freestyle and#8212; deserves a genuine nod of appreciation, too, as do his old skateboard buddies, Bob Klein, Allen Arnbrister, Keith Kimmel and Shaun Palmer, among others.

They’re the ones who took skateboarding to the snow, steering the nascent and#8212; and still not accepted and#8212; sport of snowboarding in the freestyle direction that defines it today.

and#8220;The reason the Tahoe City Pipe was found and ridden is because of skateboarding and the desire of guys like Terry Kidwell and Keith Kimmel to ride their snowboards in the snow like a skateboard. Same with me,and#8221; said Andy Berendsen, a pro skater at the time from Winchester Skatepark near San Jose.

and#8220;When I started hanging out with those guys, we were all on the same page,and#8221; Berendsen continued. and#8220;We wanted to ride skateboards in the snow, basically and#8212; with bigger airs and all that kind of stuff.and#8221;

The exact sequence of events regarding the initial discovery of the Tahoe City Pipe is debatable.

According to Anolik, a 14-year-old skateboarder from North Tahoe High School at the time, he came across the natural pipe-shaped feature by luck and then relayed the site to the elder Kidwell, Klein and Arnbrister at school.

and#8220;It was up from the creek, just this little drainage that had the shape of a halfpipe,and#8221; Anolik said. and#8220;When we came to school on Monday I said, and#8216;Hey man, you guys should come check out this spot I found; it’s like a natural halfpipe.’ And it just kind of took off from there.and#8221;

Kidwell, who was already riding a primitive fiberglass Winterstick board, and#8220;with a big ol’ scag on the bottom,” thought he remembered driving with Klein when the two friends spotted the feature from a dirt road.

and#8220;We were four-wheelin’ around and we saw it, and we instantly saw the potential,and#8221; Kidwell said. and#8220;It was like, and#8216;Wow, we’ve got to show up here in the winter and build a lip on this.’and#8221;

Klein put the story in context the best he could.

and#8220;The funny thing to me about the Tahoe City dump is that for years and years and years I have told the same story: Mark Anolik found it, he told me and Terry and Allen Arnbrister about it and it was on from there,and#8221; he said.

and#8220;Just a couple of years ago, Terry said he remembers it different, and I thought it was really funny because he felt it important to clarify. I told him he didn’t need to change his memory and neither did I. We should both just tell what we remember and let the reader decide.and#8221;

Regardless of who discovered it, the Tahoe City Pipe was on the map, and with a small but devout clique of riders who sessioned it often.

Kidwell described the natural feature as having about 10-foot walls (without snow), with a larger run-in wall entering it. There were only a couple of hits at best, he said, adding that they focused their efforts on building up and hitting the first, main transition.

and#8220;By that time we had also been riding powder for a couple of years, so we were already into riding. Then we started hitting that pipe and tried to take it in a little bit different direction,and#8221; said Kidwell, who still lives on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.

The direction they went was a given. They brought their skate tricks to the snow and#8212; backside airs, hand plants, rock and#8216;n’ rolls, alley-oops, all of them. In a few years at another early sessioning spot, the Donner Quarterpipe, Kidwell would throw the first-ever McTwist on snow, shortly after skater Mike McGill invented the trick.

and#8220;Terry was all stoked on that, so he learned it in a couple of days, and did it all stylie and tucked and tweaked and all that stuff,and#8221; said Berendsen, who moved up to Tahoe full time in 1985.

Word spread about the Tahoe City Pipe, and before long Kidwell and Klein were joined by Damian Sanders and Shaun Palmer, who would come up from Tahoe’s South Shore, as well as Tom Burt, Jim Zellers, Berendsen and his good skateboarding friend from Winchester Skatepark, Steve Caballero. Anolik quit snowboarding, for the most part, and faded from the scene.

Mike Chantry, who was the manager and resident pro at Flow Motion Skatepark in Reno in the late and#8216;70s, also was in the mix. And Chantry had connections, having worked with Tom Sims on some of the first-ever Sims Snowboard models in the and#8216;70s.

and#8220;Chantry was right in the middle of it because he was a little older than the rest of us and he had a job and#8212; he was a lineman for the phone company and#8212; and that gave us a place to stay and hang out and ride his ramp,and#8221; Berendsen said.

It was Chantry who then brought Sims to the Tahoe City Pipe during a session.

and#8220;That’s when we got spotted by Tom Sims,and#8221; said Kidwell. and#8220;Basically, he saw me and Allen and a couple other people, and me and Allen got sponsored on the spot with free equipment and stuff. So I transitioned to Sims right there.and#8221;

Kidwell was the best rider of the group, hands down, both Chantry and Berendsen said. In fact, he’s the main reason Sanders and Palmer drove all the way from South Lake Tahoe to ride on the North Shore.

and#8220;The guys from the South Shore would come because Terry was up here, and they all wanted to hang out with Terry,and#8221; Chantry said. and#8220;He was the god. They all wanted to be hanging out with him every weekend. So my place was snowboard and skateboard central.and#8221;

By 1980, Donner Ski Ranch had become the first ski resort in the Tahoe area to sell a lift ticket to a snowboarder. Other local resorts followed suit in the coming years.

But really, and#8220;it was still all about hiking back then,and#8221; Berendsen said, and#8220;all about just finding whatever you could find to ride.and#8221;

Enter the Donner Quarterpipe, a natural feature located just off of Old Highway 40 between Sugar Bowl and Donner Ski Ranch.

and#8220;Someone found that and we started sessioning it around ’83,and#8221; said Berendsen, who now works as a lift mechanic at Sugar Bowl so he can snowboard in the winter. and#8220;We used to park our car right by the road and turn the stereo on so you could hear it.and#8221;

The Donner Quarterpipe, which was reportedly unveiled by brothers Eddie and Cary Hargraves, was the site of much of the early snowboard footage, Kidwell said. It’s also where Kidwell first learned his McTwist.

and#8220;That was kind of a famous spot in a way because of the footage that came out of there,and#8221; said Kidwell. and#8220;What was cool about that hit is that there was a really long runway into it. The Tahoe City halfpipe, you had to build an extra mound to get extra speed.and#8221;

In 1983, Sims organized the first snowboard contest, the World Championships at Soda Springs. It turned out horribly, said Chantry, who went on to become a head U.S. snowboard judge and later established the current judging criteria used in international events.

and#8220;All they did was push snow up on the sides, and it was just like this ugly, crazy-looking 4-foot ditch,and#8221; Chantry said. and#8220;We looked at it and said, and#8216;No friggin’ way.’

and#8220;So we grabbed shovels and started digging freeways, and everybody had their own hit, so there was like 99 hits going down this pipe. Everybody had their own, and then somebody would grumble because someone got a bigger air and landed in their landing and put a kink in it.and#8221;

The Burton team led by Jake Burton, an East Coast Snurfer, reportedly threatened to boycott the first contest, claiming halfpipe riding did not belong in snowboarding competition.

Berendsen described the contrasts between the West Coast skateboarder-snowboarders versus the more alpine-minded riders from the East.

and#8220;The East Coast riders were racers, and when we met them out here they were fast and aggressive and all about racing. And we were like, and#8216;Let’s do an air. Follow us.’ But they didn’t really take to that real well,and#8221; Berendsen said. and#8220;So it took a long time for that to settle down, for the East Coast and West Coast to become friends and not worry about it anymore.and#8221;

Eddie Hargraves, who lived in Soda Springs, won the first contest, while Kidwell won the next two, said Chantry, who, along with Klein, judged the second and third years of the World Championships. Kidwell won again the first year the World Championships moved to Colorado, in 1986, Chantry said.

By then, halfpipe building was beginning to progress with the use of machinery, and several resorts hopped on the bandwagon.

and#8220;By ’88, you knew it was going to go off,and#8221; Kidwell said. and#8220;While we didn’t know halfpipes would become 22 feet or whatever, you saw the progression, and you just knew it was going to get bigger.and#8221;

Two years later, in 1990, the first halfpipe-cutting machine debuted, called the Pipe Dragon, which later became the Super Dragon. Resorts also tinkered with digging their pipes into the ground and#8212; a practice that took some fine-tuning to master but is still used today.

All the while, halfpipes continued to grow in size, from 12-foot walls to 15, then 18, which became the standard superpipe size, said Mike Schipani, terrain park manager at Northstar-at-Tahoe.

Schipani said Northstar began using a Pipe Dragon in 1999. By 2006, the North Shore resort had four halfpipes, Schipani said and#8212; a 13-footer, an 18-foot superpipe and two other 13-footers set up side-by-side with a spine between them.

Now, with Vail Resorts’ recent signing of Shaun White, who has named Northstar his home mountain, Northstar will boast its first-ever 22-foot superpipe, shaped with a Zaugg pipe cutter.

and#8220;We are super excited,and#8221; Schipani said. and#8220;In order to remain progressive in this industry, you definitely need a 22-foot superpipe.and#8221;

Boreal Mountain Resort also will feature a 22-foot pipe this season, while Squaw Valley USA opened a 22-footer to the public at the end of last season, after it was used for a private photo shoot.

From here, while the world’s top riders continue to progress in the halfpipe and#8212; both snowboarders and skiers, who took to the pipe with the arrival of twin-tip skis in the late and#8216;90s and#8212; no one is quite sure where the progression will end on the building side.

and#8220;I’ve wondered that myself,and#8221; Schipani said. and#8220;From here on out, I think it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say if it will go to the 24- or 25-foot pipe in the future.and#8221;

and#8220;I don’t know if they’re going to keep getting bigger and#8212; they probably could,and#8221; said Jon Slaughter, marketing director at Boreal. and#8220;But I think we’re going to see more of a progression in the riding than the building. You’re going to start seeing guys doing back-to-back triple flips.and#8221;

No matter where the progression leads, the Father of Freestyle, who’s still snowboarding strong at the age of 48, will be there, staying true to the roots he helped plant more than 30 years ago in the Tahoe City Pipe.

and#8220;I still have a lot of fun in them,and#8221; Kidwell said of halfpipes. and#8220;I’m not trying to spin to win or anything in the 18-foot ones. I don’t have anything to prove anymore. It’s just like it was in the beginning and#8212; it’s all about having fun.and#8221;

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