Big Sky has cut the half-pipe for the season, but the story is a long one involving dragons, maintenance, hydraulics, Switzerland and an oceanliner. Certainly no small journey or lack of effort has been expended to bring the best machine in the industry to Big Sky to cut a future Super-Pipe.
“It’s the real deal,” said Joe Pope, terrain park director “I had to hold back the tears of joy while I was watching it.”
By “real deal”, Pope is referring to the fact that the U-ditch was chiseled with the Zaugg Monster Pipe, the same machine used to cut the Olympic and X-Games half-pipes.
Big Sky ordered the $87,000 machine about a month ago from the Berne, Switzerland company who produces the machine; the journey involved shipping the cutter across the Atlantic, a bit of time in port followed by a slow and arduous journey across the country by train. However, on Thursday, March 17, the Zaugg Monster Pipe found its home on the mountain.
The terrain park crew wasted no time and after some assembly, a two hour warm up and thorough tutorial, Jake Porter, one of Big Sky’s dedicated terrain park cat drivers, fired up the Zaugg and took it for a spin.
“I was really happy with it,” said Porter. ”It’s bigger, longer, more powerful and a lot more maneuverable.”
All of which equates to a quicker and more precise cut. Technically speaking the Zaugg, can cut 18 feet of transition, with two feet of vert at a rate of 900 ft. per hour. The pipe cutter was welcome with open arms from the six-person terrain park crew. Noah Bullock, a member of the terrain park maintenance crew, worked at Mt. Hood as a digger the summer the Zaugg made its debut and has since been addicted to the Super Pipe and the “smooth boosting” it facilitates. Montana ski resorts haven’t offered much in the way of a perfectly cut tranny, but no longer is this the case.
“This is something that will really make a difference,” Bullock said. ”It’s indicative of the new epoch of snowboarding in Montana.”
For the last couple of years, Big Sky has relied on a smaller and somewhat archaic Pipe Dragon to shape the half-pipe. Unfortunately the Dragon has never been mechanically cooperative and subsequently the pipe has been less than super. The Dragon would break four to five times a season, which made pipe maintenance a tough task.
During the summer, the mountain operations crew did some dirt-work, in hopes that it would speed up the pipe cutting process. Snow was blown during theearly part of the winter with Big Sky’s extensive snow making system and piles were pushed. Upon the arrival of the old Pipe Dragon to the scene, thehydraulics broke almost instantly.
The park crew approached Big Sky’s mountain manager Kevin Shank and proposed a purchase of a Zaugg. Shank was open to the idea and understood the importance of a good half-pipe at a destination resort like Big Sky. After some discussion, a couple of long distance phone calls to Berne, Switzerland (home of the Zaugg), Shank made the crews’ pipe dream a reality. After watching theZaugg in action on Friday, Shank says he is pleased with the product.
“I think it was leaving a lot better wall the old Dragon,” Shank commented.
The locals agree, Tyrel Thornton, a Big Sky free-ride team member, who has snowboarded at Big Sky for seven seasons and has seen the many shapes the pipe has taken watched the Zaugg slice away at the snow on Friday. Thornton’s grin was almost as big as the tranny itself and he couldn’t be more excited about the new pipe.
“It’s like comparing a crème brulee to a pop tart,” said Thornton of the new pipe to the old. “I didn’t think I’d see this until I was an old man, a really, really old man.”
Thornton said he thinks the purchase of the Zaugg is an indicator of the commitment Big Sky has made to build a reputable park, and that this continued dedication to freestyle terrain will keep more skiers and snowboarder in Montana and eventually earn Big Sky a place among the natioons premier parks. Which is just the reaction the resort wanted to see.
“We purchased the Zaugg so we could be in the top rankings when it come to terrain parks,” said Shank. ”And next year people can expect to see our pipe cut as close to opening day as possible.”