Pipes have gone bigger. The standard for elite competitions, once set at 18 feet, has now leapt up to 22 feet. Whistler Blackcomb jumped on the trend with their new pipe opening mid-January.

"We had a superpipe since the mid 1990s," Brian Finestone, terrain park supervisor, told OnTheSnow. "When the world switched over to 22-foot pipes, we started looking around for options."

But enlarging a pipe takes more than piling up more snow.

Finestone and his crew checked out the trial pipe for the 2010 Olympics at Cypress Mountain and researched options for pipe cutting. The 18-foot Zaugg pipe cutter had been their workhorse, but they settled on the new Global Pipe Cutter, invented by John Melville, an ex-employee of Whistler Blackcomb. "Rather than taking the existing length of the pipe cutter and adding four feet, he started completely over with the design," said Finestone. "The transition makes for a better launch and a better catch."

Whistler Blackcomb's terrain park crew built a 22-foot test pipe last March within the superpipe's current footprint using one of Melville's borrowed Global Pipe Cutters. "Within four days, it was clear and obvious that it wasn't going to work," explained Finestone. "We realized our earth work was not quite big enough."

This past summer, the resort shelled out $25,000 to widen the earthen structure that supports the pipe. It spent around another $18,000 installing a large tower gun to be able to make the volumes of snow necessary to fill the pipe. It also increased the length of pipe by 20 more meters. "For the Shaun Whites of the world, it's one more hit," said Finestone. "For mortals, it's several more hits."

Whistler Blackcomb's new Global Pipe is now open to the public. The Shaun Whites of the world and mere mortals can find it located between Catskiiner Chair and Solar Coaster Express on Blackcomb Mountain. It is rated as an advanced to expert terrain feature.

More information.