What is a half pipe?

A snowboard half pipe is a U-shaped slope made specifically with freestyle snowboarding or freeskiing in mind. The main idea is to go from wall-to-wall and perform aerial tricks on both sides. The riders will be judged by style, trick difficulty as well as amplitude of each trick.

A full-size half pipe is known as a superpipe, which has a wall height of 22 ft (6.7m). The flat width between walls is also greater than an average half pipe, measuring in at 64 ft (20m). However, its length can vary anywhere from 400 ft (120m) to 600 ft (180m). 

Half pipes need to be groomed with special equipment to get the most out of them. The downside of this is that due to their maintenance cost, only a handful of pure-blood superpipes exist around the world. While these are standardized for all major snowboard half pipe competitions, smaller ones also exist wherever snow is available. The most popular sizes are half pipes with 18 ft (5.5m) walls. 

Due to their maintenance cost, only a handful of pure-blood superpipes exist around the world.

How are snowboard half pipe events organized?

A snowboarder’s run score is determined by six judges. The highest and lowest scores will be removed and the remaining four scores are averaged to form the final score. The highest possible score is 100. On official International Ski Federation (ISF) events, all snowboarders compete on the first qualification run. However, only a select few will be able to continue onto the next round. The top 12 men and top 6 women will gain a spot at the finals

Each snowboarder will compete in reverse order at the final – the rider with the highest score will be the last one to hit the pipe. Most snowboard half pipe contests have a three-run format where the best one counts. On the other hand, two-run formats are also popular. 

Go big and keep it stylish

Each judge will score the run according to a variety of different factors. These factors include:

  • Clean execution of tricks
  • Variety of aerial tricks
  • Height, or amplitude of each trick
  • Combining difficult tricks back-to-back
  • Using the full length of the pipe during your run
  • Risk-taking and natural progression of half pipe snowboarding

Even the slightest misstep can result in lower points for a whole run. Thus, professional snowboarders must walk a very thin line of taking enough risks but still landing their runs. 

Most pipe boards are all-mountain boards instead of true twin tips - even if you ride both switch and normal.

Brief history about snowboard half pipe

As snowboarding progressed, the standard size of superpipes also got bigger. What we used to call superpipes are now just called standard half pipes. In the early 2000s, 18 ft (5.5m) pipes were considered competition-sized superpipes. That was pretty far from their modern equivalents. 

The idea to create bigger half pipes came from the riders themselves. They wanted higher walls with a longer midsection. This would help snowboarders get ready for the next wall and make takeoffs easier. These changes ultimately made half pipe snowboarding both safer and more exciting to watch than ever before. 

Boards and other equipment for half pipe snowboarding

Half pipe riding relies on both speed and edge hold, which means that a true pipe-fiend should look for a snowboard with a stiffer flex. If your snowboard is too loose, you might not have enough stability at high speeds or landings. For this same reason most pipe boards are directional all-mountain boards with a stiffer tail and a set-back stance instead of true twin tips – even if you ride both switch and normal. 

Stiffer flex of your bindings and boots also help transfer energy from your feet to your board. They will be more unforgiving, but they make up for it in speed, power and stability. 

Some half pipe terminology

  • Frontside wall refers to the riders toe side, which means that you are facing the wall as you are about to hit it. Backside wall on the other hand, is the heelside wall of the rider. You can also do backside and frontside airs and turns using the same logic. 
  • Backside rotation is the direction where you turn your back away from where you are going during the first 180°. For regular riders this means spinning clockwise and counterclockwise for goofy riders. 
  • Frontside spins are the opposite of backside spins. In frontside rotations, you are still facing where you are going for the first 180°. For regular riders this means spinning counterclockwise and clockwise for goofy riders. 
  • Handplant is a trick where the rider puts his/her hand on the lip for a quick handstand. 
  • Alley-oop means spinning 180° in the air away from the slope. It can be done on both the frontside and backside walls
  • Bail means intensionally ”giving up” or ”abandoning” a trick. 
  • Fakie or switch riding means snowboarding backwards (wrong foot forward). However, if you land backwards, it is called ”landing fakie”. 
  • The machine that shapes a snowboard half pipe is called the pipe dragon.  

Note, that this is a really small list of snowboard terminology. There are tons of different terms and tricks in the snowboard world.

Biggest snowboard half pipe events

The most prestigious snowboard half pipe events are the FIS Snowboard World Cup, X Games, World Snowboard Tour (WST) and Winter Olympics. For more information and event dates, check out their homepages.

Did you learn anything new about snowboard half pipes?

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