Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Man Behind the Pipe

Large flakes came to rest on my increasingly foggy windshield making it hard to see as another Sunday evening drew to a close. Photographer Parker Cross and I were waiting for Tyson Goodrich, the man behind Park City Mountain Resort’s superpipe. Tonight we were to get an insight into what its like operating one of the few 22 foot pipe Zauggs (a massive $112,000 snowblower backed with 190 horsepower that attaches to the front of a cat and is specifically for shaping halfpipes).

The snow picked up as I got word from Tyson that he had his cats in place. Parker grabbed his bag and we made our way across the vacant slopes to the base of the pipe where Tyson, a man with more than a decade of experience behind the controls, drove down to meet us.

After the handshakes and “nice to meet yous” were out of the way we climbed aboard started into the routine that Tyson goes through 7 nights a week for the length of the season. So far he has had only one day off since getting this enormous pipe up and running. As the light continued to fade the prep work began.

According to Tyson, grooming the decks and the flat bottom are key to keeping the pipe walls smooth and free of bumps. If there is a bump in the bottom of the pipe or up on the wall it will hang up the Zaugg and cause it to dig deeper into the wall.

Park City’s superpipe is the longest running 22-footer in America, opening December 19, 2005. It has been a long time spot of progression bringing the top names in half pipe from around the world. The roster of those that call this pipe home reads like a snowboarding version of the original 92’ Dream Team.

With a parched start to the season this year’s pipe relied solely on the snow making capabilities of the resort, which doesn’t come cheap. According to Alex Divers, of the resorts snow making team, they put all extra capacity into it for two weeks, blowing the 91 acre foot (meaning if all the snow was in one acre it would be 91 feet deep) necessary for the halfpipe.

Tyson pushed and shaped this massive pile of snow for weeks waking around 5 a.m. to the dark frigid mornings, and then working a superhuman shift lasting far into the night only to do the same thing the next day.

Driving a cat during these early stages of building is about as much fun as being at your local theme park stuck in the bumper cars with a group of little miscreant kids for a full day. The stop and go, back and forth, non-stop jerking and positioning of literally tons of snow can take its toll.

After finishing the prep work we made our way to swap cats. Climbing out in the darkness I looked over to see the massive piece of equipment which made me think of an ant holding some disproportionately huge leaf in its grasp. The trick that goes along with driving the massive Zaugg is finding where you can fit as you head down the hill, minding the chairs hanging overhead.

After weaving our way back down to the bottom of the pipe Tyson revved up the Zaugg. As it warmed up he pointed out the dials that allow him the ability to shape the walls almost an exact 5 degrees off of vert on an 18 degree slope. With the inhuman level of difficulty riding has reached, the pipe has become a matter of inches, which is no easy task for something longer than two boeing 747’s end to end.

Starting our way up the Olympic length of 550 feet he added some extra RPM’s and with minor flicks of the joystick we began to creep up the pipe. Having only seen the Zaugg in action 3 times from the outside, he goes off of feel and sound stating, “you can hear when you are cutting too deep.” The first portion of the wall is where you have to get it dialed in, sometimes leaving a few waves in the wall. When I asked how many passes it takes Tyson simply stated, “until it’s done.” On a good night with fresh snow he makes at least four passes on each wall.

As my time with Tyson drew to a close we climbed down from the tool he uses to move mountains, we thanked him and we said goodbye. He returned to his routine, pushing his way back up through the snow.

The Life of a cat driver is thankless. You arrive as the day draws to a close and the crowds are all heading home to rest. You sit alone in a dark cab as the night swallows the mountain. Hardly ever does anyone think about what you have created for them, or the time you have taken to get it to perfection. They show up to ride while you try and catch up on your sleep. There you watch, from the sidelines of your creation, as the kid with the trick of the day lays another step forward in the progression of the sport.

The next time you go to drop in, stop and admire what these sculptors have shaped for you. Their art is not in stone, it is a temporary tribute to fun and progression and it melts away every year. Their names don’t grace the pages of magazines or grab headlines, but they are there, working the graveyard for our enjoyment. So here’s to you guys, to all the Tysons hard at work each night. Thanks for being so good at what you do.

Meeting Tyson

The Zaugg

Tyson in front of his cat.

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