All Photos: Zach Hooper
Full recap edit
For the critics who say that pipe contests have become predictable events where it's hard to get creative and progression is measured by adding another 180 or flip, two events rose up this March to refute those claims. The first was the rider-driven Arctic Challenge in Oslo, Norway headed by Terje Haakonsen from March 12–15. The second was the Red Bull Double Pipe in Aspen, Colorado on March 23. Both added features like wallrides and rails to the course layout while looking for new or lesser used formats to replace the traditional two or three run contests.
Where the double pipe really delivered was with a setup that hasn't been seen since mid-90s Mack Dawg shoots, except on a far more massive scale. The whole thing measures 550-feet long and is 140 feet wide deck-to-deck with a four-foot wide spine in the middle. Extra features include wallrides on the two far walls with a hitching post rail in the middle of the spine followed by a channel, and two down rails at the bottom. As pros from this generation have never ridden anything on such a scale it took time to figure out. Even after three days of practice some of the best pipe riders in the world were still having a hard time dialing transfers where under or overshooting by just a few inches meant hard, awkward falls.
Given the layout a key element to making this contest work was judges who grasped the nuances of the course. For example, is a backside or frontside transfer over the spine harder? Is it easier to spin over the spine or straight air or hit the rail? To get a better understanding of how the double pipe works, judges Guillaume Morisset, Chad Otterstrom, and Elija Teter—who were all serious pipe competitors in their time—dropped during practice along with Conner Manning.
Taylor Gold’s winning run
With the judging in place along with a creative setup, organizers turned to the 18 invited riders to give them as much say as possible in the competition format during semifinals. Several options were tabled during a riders meeting on Friday morning and after some discussion between Contest Director Liam Griffin and the riders a jam format was chosen with true overall judging, meaning there would be no scores out of 100, just a rank from first to last. As the finals would be televised there wasn't much room to play with different formats since the best of three runs using a 100-point system is practically made for TV—compared to a jam where riders drop in any order they want, as much as they want, it's easy to understand for anyone watching on NBC April 12.
Even with the more relaxed jam for semifinals that let riders continue to experiment with different runs instead of trying to perfect a routine, most riders didn't start really turning it on until finals. That's when, on his first run, Taylor Gold threw down his winning line that included a frontside air, double Michalchuk, frontside 540 roast beef, indy spine transfer, wallride to method out, 50-50 to 180 out, switch Michalchuk, to Cab 1080 chicken salad.
For those of you keeping count, that's eight tricks that Taylor did. In a regular pipe contest where pipes are around the same length, riders get around five or six hits. That's because riders usually drift so far down the pipe but in the double pipe they were forced to go more straight up the wall if they wanted to transfer the spine. Some riders like Greg Bretz got as many as 10 hits in.
Chase Josey picked up second place, which came as little surprise to anyone who watched him ride during practice as quickly figured out the pipe. Chase has been working hard on the contest circuit this year, trying for a spot on the US Olympic team, and winning the Burton US Open qualifying event at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania but couldn't find a major podium before the Double Pipe. In semifinals he was looking just as strong as the only rider to throw a backside wallride to Michalchuk out.
Chase Josey’s second place run
France's Arthur Longo slid into the third spot on his final run with a line that included a massive air to fakie off the spine entry, backside 360 transfer, and frontside double cork 1080. Arthur also got a rare switch double backside rodeo during semifinals.
Arthur Longo’s third place run
As testament to how difficult it was to navigate the spine Scotty Lago fell hard and hit his head on his first run, also the first of the contest, which sent him to the hospital. Christian Haller also took a similar bail, which left him sidelined. And in semifinals Markus Keller landed directly on the spine after an overhead air for a brutal bail that he was thankfully able to ride away from.
Notable riding from the remaining six finalists included Benji Farrow's 50-50 270 out and wall-to-wall carve at the bottom of the pipe. Greg Bretz was riding smooth all day and was the only rider to do a backside 720 transfer at the bottom of the spine, while 14-year-old Gabe Ferguson handled the pipe as smoothly as any of the older riders with backside 360 transfers over the spine. His brother Ben pulled out at the last minute because of stomach flu. Scott Blum took his own line, sending near top-to-bottom handplants and was the only rider to boardslide the hitching post rail.
With the Double Pipe in the history books, it remains to be seen how much this contest will influence future contests. There are some clear reasons why this exact setup won't likely be a regular event. The first is the cost and ability to build it. And as Arthur Longo says, "It's maybe not perfect yet," meaning there may be better ways to design it to let riders do more progressive tricks. With something so new, though, it always takes time to work out the kinks for the builders and for riders to get used to the setup. But perhaps the most important thing to come out of both the Double Pipe and The Arctic Challenge is a renewed discussion about how pipe riding can continue to move away from something based adding that extra spin or flip.
Red Bull Double Pipe Final Results
1. Taylor Gold — 95.62
2. Chase Josey — 91.43
3. Arthur Longo — 88.64
4. Greg Bretz — 85.65
5. Gabe Ferguson — 84.06
6. Benji Farrow — 79.87
7. Christian Haller — 58.6
Gabe Ferguson, backside 360 spine transfer