Super terrain tour |

Super terrain tour

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunNorthstar Terrain Park Director Chris Castaneda floats above the new Ritz Carlton at Northstar's mid-mountain superpipe on Friday.

Little known to most new-schoolers, the first snowboard halfpipe in the world was born in 1979 at a creek bed outside the Tahoe City dump. Since those days of hand-dug ditch hits, North Tahoe resorts have continued to lead the progression of halfpipe riding, having offered regularly maintained pipes for more than 15 years.

The current era of competition-caliber halfpipe are called superpipes, as the transition walls have surpassed mere mortal status and now tower between 18 and 22 feet tall. Easily the most precisely groomed slope at any resort, a great superpipe is the product of careful planning, laborious summer work and skilled execution with the pipe cutter.

As of last week, local pipe riders have good reason to celebrate, as North Tahoe now boasts three world-class superpipes. Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley USA opened brand new pipes, joining Boreal Mountain Resort, which opened the West Coast’s first superpipe of the season on Dec. 14.

With more than 1,200 feet of buttery, 18-foot transition in North Tahoe, I figured it was high time to report on the goods. Late last week I visited each of the three local superpipes to bring you both nitty-gritty gritty pipe specs and a first-hand perspective of the scene at deck level. Here goes.

Having ridden Boreal’s superpipe several times since it opened, I knew what to expect when I showed up last week ” near perfection. Boreal is dead serious about maintaining a flawless superpipe, as Terrain Park Director Eric Rosenwald would have nothing less.

Zipping up the high-speed Accelerator chair, my thoughts were confirmed as the slightly northeast-facing pipe came into view. The 425-foot-long, 64-foot-wide pipe looked laser-cut with a sunny right wall, a partially shaded left wall and a steady stream of riders attacking the trannies. I joined the crew and took a few hot laps. The grippy walls rode even better than they looked. From the first hit to the last, the snow surface was smooth, slightly firm and nicely edgeable. It was plain to see why the Boreal pipe gets a lot of love.

“We go above and beyond to always have the best pipe possible,” Rosenwald said. “This season’s superpipe is one of the best we’ve ever had. When we cut the pipe the snow was real consistent, no wet pockets. The riding surface is dead even and durable.”

As I moved to the lip of the pipe to shoot pictures, the precision of the walls was further evident in the grace of the riders. Effortlessly flat-bottoming straight up the walls, experienced rippers boosted to their hearts’ content, caught the landing pocket just high of mid-transition and rocketed into the next wall. Talking to riders sessioning that day, everyone agreed: The Boreal superpipe was, and always is, amazing.

Looking to catch all three pipes in similar weather conditions, I hopped over to Northstar the day after Boreal. The sun was out and the winds were mild, making for perfect conditions in the stunt ditch.

Northstar has shown tremendous dedication to progressive freestyle terrain the past few years, and its 420-foot-long, 53-foot-wide mid-mountain superpipe radiated that positive energy. As I gaped at it from the high-speed Vista Express chair, it looked like a monster. But a throng of riders and skiers were making it look like a bunny run.

Catching up with Northstar Terrain Park Director Chris Castaneda before my first lap, I got the lowdown on the specs of the pipe. Castaneda was thrilled with how the pipe had shaped up for opening week.

“We’re excited to offer our guests one of the best superpipes in the Tahoe Basin,” Castaneda said. “After a lot of hard work, our superpipe is not only a premier component of our terrain parks, but our mid-mountain experience.”

The Northstar pipe is indeed well located, as the north-facing, 16-degree-sloped pipe dumps right into the mid-mountain day lodge.

Slashing and boosting the sunny walls of the Northstar pipe, I found the transitions to be exceptionally smooth and easy going. Though the walls seemed deceivingly steep, my landing gear found the friendly trannies without fail, and I never drifted to flat.

After snapping some shots of Castaneda blasting into orbit, it was obvious once again ” North Shore resorts do not mess around when it comes to park design. Northstar’s superpipe was right on par with Boreal’s ” consistent, immaculately groomed and well placed.

The timing of my superpipe tour couldn’t have been better, as the day after visiting Northstar, Squaw had a grand opening party for its Riviera park superpipe. Seeing the south-facing, 350-foot-long, 50-foot-wide superpipe glisten in the sun on the way up the Funitel, I knew I was in for yet another sweet day of shredding pipe.

Though Squaw has had gorgeous pipes in years past, this season’s superpipe is definitely the best effort yet. With the pipe only hours old, Squaw Terrain Park Director Tom Richards gave me the scoop on opening day conditions.

“Everyone has been really stoked on our superpipe,” Richards said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments. All the summer work we put into redesigning the Riviera pipe and park has really paid off.”

Hopping on the two-seater Riviera chair, I got a bird’s-eye view of the beefy new Riviera jump line with the pipe off to the right. As I dropped into the pipe for my first run I immediately noticed the benefit of the higher elevation southern exposure of Squaw’s pipe ” both walls were in the sun.

On a scorching day this might leave both walls gooey, but on a slightly brisk High Camp day like it was, both walls were perfect. The slightly soft and smooth wall surface boosted my ego on backside hits, yet every landing felt firmly edgeable with good edge grip.

Though Squaw cuts its pipe walls to vertical, unlike Boreal and Northstar, I didn’t feel the transitions were too steep. Popping off the lip required a bit more edge pressure, but returning to earth, the sweet spot was always under foot. Judging by the amplitude of the skiers and riders ripping the new pipe, it seemed like hero conditions for just about everyone.

In my short but sweet tour of the local superpipes, every vertical foot of transition I rode was an absolute pleasure. Boreal, Northstar and Squaw have all put in a tremendous effort to provide riders and skiers with the best pipe conditions possible every day of the week.

No matter whether your perfecting that 1080 or yearning to crest the lip, don’t hesitate to give these local gems a run or 12.

You won’t be disappointed.

Seth Lightcap is a photographer and sportswriter at the Sierra Sun. He may be reached at


Transition height: 18 feet

Pipe length: 425 feet

Lip to lip width: 64 feet

Slope pitch: 15 degrees

Wall steepness: 5 degrees off vertical


Transition height: 18 feet

Pipe length: 420 feet

Lip to lip width: 53 feet

Slope pitch: 16 degrees

Wall steepness: 10 degrees off vertical

Squaw Valley

Transition height: 18 feet

Pipe length: 350 feet

Lip to lip width: 50 feet

Slope pitch: 16.5 degrees

Wall steepness: Wall goes to vertical

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