By Larry Nunez

When the Red Bull Double Pipe airs on NBC this Saturday, some viewers might wonder why riders aren’t doing the same tricks over the spine as they are in the rest of the pipe. But building two pipes side-by-side with a four-foot wide spine down the center was something completely new to the competitors, and with it came a learning curve. Many of the riders took some tough falls, both in practice and during the event, acclimating to the unusual set up.

Superpipe veteran Scotty Lago experienced a rough one his first run of the finals that ended his day and sent him to the hospital instead of the podium. “I got off my line, so I transferred in a spot that I’d never really transferred before and kinda just went for it,” he says. “I didn’t clear the gap and that bounced me to the flat. It was on the shaded wall too, so when I bounced to the flat I smacked the back of my head and landed on my back… It was probably my hardest fall of the season. I went in for a X-ray totally assuming everything was fine, just to be cautious because my neck was hurting pretty bad, and I found out that I actually had a broken neck from before that I never even knew about.”

Luckily there was no new damage and the old injury had already healed, so other than taking about a week off to rest and recover, Scotty ended up relatively unscathed. Unfortunately the Best Style award winner, Markus Keller, wasn’t so lucky.

Markus Keller’s bail in the Red Bull Double Pipe

“To be honest I thought it was going to be way easier to ride a spine,” says Markus, who took one of the hardest slams of the contest, severely spraining his ankle. “You really had to absorb the vert to make it over, and the faster you went, the less you had to absorb. So you saw lots of guys going to coping and getting sent down to the flat or just sending it straight to flat because they absorbed too much. It was kind of a gamble—eating shit and trying to remember next time to do it better. But all of us 18 riders I think ate shit at one point with those transfer tries.”

It wasn’t only the riders who had to adjust, as head pipe cutter at Snowpark Technologies Frank Wells was tasked with shaping the masterpiece. Instead of making it easy on the riders, leaving the walls of the spine with straight vert was intentional as he explains, “We didn’t want to make it where you could only transfer in one spot.”

The lack of any designated transfer points made the few tricks that were thrown over the spine all the more impressive. “We were blown away at how quickly they [the riders] could get over it,” says Frank. “It’s so gnarly, and the margin of error was so small. The fact that we didn’t have to modify the vert and they were able to adapt was probably the most surprising thing.”

In the end, several riders put together some nice combos while others paid the price, but even they know that snowboarding is better off for it. We all got to see snowboard progress, with a stylish nod to its roots in skateboarding rather than just another rotation tacked on to an existing trick.

“The whole set was awesome, it was like a piece of art,” says Scotty. “The guys at SPT did such a good job and it was pretty damn fun to ride.”

Watch the Red Bull Signature Series on NBC this Saturday, April 12at 2:00 p.m. EST.

Markus Keller. PHOTO: Zach Hooper

Markus Keller. PHOTO: Zach Hooper