Halfpipe Construction: The Shape of Things to Come

In the eyes of snowboarders, one of the most difficult structures to buildand maintain is a quality halfpipe. From the humble beginnings of snowboarding A Complete History of the Snowboard Halfpipe by Lee Crane), halfpipe rulershave been doing battle with contest organizers, mountain operations, andmother nature to assure that they at least have a meager place to practicetheir craft. Stories are legion, even at the World Cup level, of pipes almostunrideable, producing a contest which looks lame at best, and dangerous atworst.

In the past, a significant amount of halfpipe anxiety was due to the learningcurve of a new sport, and educating resorts and pipe construction personnelon how to prepare the best shapes with basic resort equipment. This modeof operation is changing with the advent of new snowboard specific technologyboth in machine and hand tools. As technology has made halfpipes better,the standards have also been. Most halfpipe riders have a vision of whatan ideal pipe should look like, but shifting that vision into reality seemsto be a quantum leap.

The problem lies in the fact that too many people who control the decisionmaking process view the halfpipe as a fixed and static feature, and thatonce built, a pipe is left to the forces of nature. A severe change of opinionis needed, as the halfpipe needs to be thought of as an elastic form (almostlifelike) that changes daily and which needs continual maintenance. Anotherhuge factor in developing consistent halfpipes is a set of standards. Overthe years the NASBA, OP, USASA, USSA, ISF, and FIS have given differing pipedimensions to resorts. All this help from various organizations has leftpipe building more of an art than a science. Both the ISF and the FIS arenow promoting similar versions of halfpipe dimensions. We hope this willassist the construction process greatly.

Halfpipe Technical Information
The standards now being proposed by the ISF and FIS are as follows:

Technical Data


15 degrees 18 degrees

100m 110m

13m 15m

Wall Height
3m 3.5m

4m 4m

0.3m @ 85 degrees

Bottom Flat*
5m maximum

Drop in Area*

Banner fence from wall* 1.5m

*These measurements are given as only one value due to the fact that thesenumbers should be consistent at every halfpipe contest.


There are four factors which will affect the outcome of any halfpipe. Theseinclude: Site, Snow, Orientation and the Work/Expense involved. All mustbe in harmony. Out of these four the most important is the site and the mechanicsthat surround selecting the best location.

Construction should begin at the top and move to the bottom following thefall-line using gravity to the advantage of the snowcats. Remember to giveyourself about a week to complete the project as all the halfpipe elementstake longer than expected. Listed below are the steps for constructing ahalfpipe.

1. Read the and use it.

2. Pick the proper site.
3. Make enough snow to have a huge pile (roughly 4000 cubic meters).
4. Find an expert snowcat driver with experience shaping pipes.
5. Smooth the initial pile of snow to work with and block out initialshape.
6. Stake out the width of the walls for the orientation of the pipe.
7. Remove material from the channel of the halfpipe with the snowcat.
8. Measure wall to wall distance and verify all dimensions.
9. Shape the roll out decks with the snowcat.
10. Shape the transition with a Pipe Dragon,other device, or by hand.
11. Shape the vertical by hand.
12. Remove excess material from the bottom of the halfpipe with the snowcat.
13. Shape the start area.
14. Buff out the roll-out decks.
15. Place fencing if necessary.
16. Maintain the halfpipe as needed.

When building a halfpipe pay close attention to the initial shaping of thesnowcat. Do not remove too much material from the walls on the beginningpass and try to cut down the channel in a V type formation with the snowcat.This will leave enough snow for the Pipe Dragon, back hoe or humans to shapein a smooth transition to the bottom of the halfpipe. If you remove too muchmaterial from the walls you will have too much flat bottom, the walls willbe to vertical and the maintenance of the walls will be difficult becausethe pipe will get wider and wider as the sun melts it out.

When shaping the vertical by hand remember to use stakes and string to keepthe line straight along the walls of the halfpipe. All shaping starts atthe top and shapes down from the vertical. After this is complete along bothwalls the shapers go inside the pipe and pull down the loose material tothe bottom. The best tools for shaping a halfpipe are the Heine tools whichare a very specific vertical shaping shovel and a oversize rake that pullsdown material very effectively.

When dealing with difficult conditions i.e.; too icy or too soft, rememberthe following: if the conditions are icy wait until the afternoon when thepipe is at its warmest to start shaping and working the pipe. Using specialtools like chain saws, back hoes and other heavy implements might be youronly chance in altering pipe shape. If the pipe is too mushy salt must beused in conjunction with patching the divots and chunks that get pulled fromthe wall. Using some light plywood and compressing snow behind and packingunder pressure sometimes works in fixing holes in the halfpipe walls.

Things to avoid in Halfpipe Construction
1. Bad site selection and lack of halfpipe specifications.
2. Not enough snow in the formative pile.
3. No experienced snowcat drivers to push snow.
4. Halfpipe initial channel is flawed.
5. Walls are uneven.
6. The flat bottom to large.
7. The transition to small. (This is the worst)
8. Too much vertical.
9. Too little vertical.
10. Halfpipe wall are over vertical.

What makes or breaks a halfpipe in the course of a season is how wellit is maintained. It is essential to take care of the investment. The destroyersof a halfpipe are the sun, fresh snow, and neglect. It is important to removefresh snow the day it happens and remove the excess of material from thebottom of the pipe.

In spring conditions or when warm the pipe might need 1-3 snowcat hours everyother day, along with significant man hours to keep the pipe in shape. Itis better to maintain the pipe on a daily basis rather than risk trying tosalvage the halfpipe if things go bad.

During a competition the halfpipe will need to be maintained after trainingruns and at the end of the competition day. Everything should be recheckedas far as specifications and a staff should be available to assist in reshapingthe pipe.

Materials for Halfpipe Construction
Snowcats: Good snowcats that have experienced drivers and have theability and power to push big quantities of snow, a large blade to push snowand a tiller buff out the bottom of the pipe.

Pipe Dragon, back hoe or lots of humans: One of these devices areessential in forming the transition of the halfpipe. Since this is the mostimportant part of the pipe that usually gets screwed up the most it is imperativethat someone really knows what they are doing.

Shovels and rakes: Kurt Heine has made the best implements for halfpipeshaping and maintenance. These shovels and rakes are specific to halfpipebuilding and are constructed beefy to withstand abuse. The shovels are heavy,flat bladed and have extra long reach. the rakes are oversized, well spacedteeth and also have long handles. Buy them if you can find them as Kurt isno longer making these great tools.

Other helpful materials:
1. 10 Stakes
2. Lots of String
3. Spray Paint
4. Inclinometer
5. Measuring Tape
6. Chain saw
7. Salt
8. Whiskey

These items will help in outlining the specifications of the halfpipe andkeep you on track when shaping the beast. Use the stakes and string and paintto mark the top of the walls or edges when needed. The inclinometer is usedto make sure of the slope of the halfpipe channel. The salt is used whenthe pipe is mushy from the sun. And the whiskey….well the whiskey is usedwhen the whole thing starts to fall apart, or to tempt the snowcat driverinto making one more pass at buffing out the roll-out decks. You get thepicture.

The Big Picture
The halfpipe is part of snowboarding’s unique culture. Unlike skating whichhas a complete, fixed and solid halfpipe, the snowboarder has to contendwith inconsistent pipes and the forces of nature. The perfect halfpipe hasyet to be built for snowboarders, but the time is close when all riders canhave the same consistency in pipe shape and design from site to site. Asthe sport develops and better tools allow the building of halfpipes to becomemore consistent, the range of tricks and the ability of riders will continueto grow and halfpipe riding will attract more dedicated riders who enjoythe sensation of floating and catching big air. We as riders have just scratchedthe surface of what will be done in the halfpipe, it is up to all of us topush the limits to see what we can build and accomplish in the halfpipe.