A halfpipe, to ardent pipe smokers such as legendary blues-rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name – Dr. Seuss, might be a pipe only half filled with tobacco. To winter sports enthusiasts, however, a halfpipe is something better known as the prelude to the ambulance ride to the hospital!
Since the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, the “standard” version of the halfpipe, with 15-foot vertical side walls, has been used by competitive snowboarders, with many of them attaining jumps exceeding 20 feet in the air beyond the height of the icy walls.
While that may not seem like too great a height from which to fall, when you add in the 15-foot side walls, you would now be plummeting 35 feet or more – if you do not land properly after performing a jump. Equated to everyday life, that would be the equivalent of leaping off a three-story building onto nothing more than a very unforgiving, rock-hard surface. The aerial daredevils who participate in this sport must surely be considered trapeze artists, operating without nets! That, or they are all crazy.
Most if not all halfpipe enthusiasts have suffered injuries ranging from “nothing serious” to “gravely injured” while enjoying this winter sport. Of course, to someone willing to deliberately hurl their body upwards of 35 feet into the air with no guarantee of landing safely, a “nothing serious” injury could be fractured legs, arms, or hips.
The classification of “gravely injured” would be reserved more for injuries such as broken necks, backs, or serious head trauma. For these snow-loving athletes, a torn ligament probably does not even qualify as an injury! Now an open fracture, with the jagged edge of a broken femur sticking through the skin, THAT’S an injury!
Even the man considered the greatest snowboarder today, the Guru of the halfpipe, Shaun White, is not immune to the hazards associated with an improper landing. There are probably scars on his chin that will lead to great stories of his exploits when the time comes for him to entertain his grandchildren with tales of his youthful, sporting exuberance. If he lives long enough to have grandchildren that are.
The Halfpipe Daredevils
Along with Shaun White, there are other icons of the sport for their fans to follow. All the little snowboarders out there who accomplish their first successful trip down the slippery slopes without interacting with one of Mother Nature’s creations (trees, rocks, and all the other hindrances found on hills and mountains), are already dreaming of following in the wakes of not only White, but others like Louie Vito, Zack Black, J.J. Thomas, and Steve Fisher.
And we cannot forget the feminine side of snowboarding, not with the likes of Olympic medalists Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, and Hannah Teter demonstrating that snowboarding is not for men only. I applaud all the women who are willing to join their male counterparts in the hospital emergency wards, all for the sake of the sport they love. I used to think that downhill racing was crazy, but these extreme sports junkies take their choice of snowy lunacy to a whole new level!
Winter sports, for me, include watching snow fall, watching the snow melt, and watching birds come to the feeders in the backyard. Extreme winter sports would include shoveling the snow, brushing off the car, and driving on the slippery roads to get to work or to go shopping. I commend all those, because they are young and strong and yes, just a few more elevated degrees of crazy than most of us, for their love of strapping on the highly polished, colorful boards, and then deliberately and with common sense thrown to the four winds, racing into a man-made gully with 15 foot high walls.
Walls are not built for containment, but for entertainment. And once within the confines of the frigid walls, try with all their strength and might, to escape and defy the laws of gravity with their leaps, twists, and contortions. There should even be an Olympic medal ceremony held in the hospital, for all those not fortunate enough to “stick” their landings. The gold medal goes to the snowboarder who can walk out of the emergency room under their own power!
To learn more about halfpipe snowboarding and their halfpipe daredevils, its history, background, and those men and women who have turned it into an Olympic sport, you can consult Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.