Northstar resort featuring new superpipe

February 14, 2012 5:53:43 PM PST
The Presidents Day holiday weekend is usually one of the biggest weekends for Tahoe ski areas. This year, there is mostly man-made, but conditions are better than many people think even though they do not have a lot of natural snow. There is also a new competition-size crowd pleaser.

When you watch Shaun White get a perfect score in the X-Games, you probably do not think much about the superpipe he is riding on. But without it, the extreme tricks would not be possible. Northstar, near Lake Tahoe, is White's home mountain, with one of only six full-size superpipes in the country. And, you do not have to be in the X-Games to ride it. A superpipe has higher, steeper sides than an ordinary halfpipe. That helps you go faster and get more air.

Creating the perfect platform for extreme sports takes extreme dedication. ABC7 rode along on the nightshift with the grooming team at Northstar. "It takes a sobering amount of work to get these parks done," grooming supervisor Brandon Strong said. The first challenge is just making enough snow. "We put in 688 hours of snowmaking to get the amount of snow you see here tonight," Strong added. "It took 32 days start to finish, with anywhere between three or four Cats working 24 hours around the clock."

The pipe is 510 feet long, but the size and shape of the walls are what is really critical. They are 22 feet high, built entirely of snow, carefully smoothed by a giant mechanical arm with a huge spinning blade. It is operated by Andrew Erath who lives and breathes superpipe. Erath got his start running heavy equipment on his family farm. He has been working in terrain parks for the last decade.

It is a dangerous job and the crew takes it very seriously. Erath's Snowcat is supported by a cable attached to another Snowcat at the top of the hill."Right now, we've got 2.5 tons holding us back and we can pull up to 4.5 tons," he said. The cable keeps him from sliding downhill too quickly. In a sport where speed is key, this job is about taking it slow. "You just are quiet and you listen to the machine, and you can hear how much it's cutting," he said.

Most days, Erath is in bed by the time snowboarders get to enjoy his work. 11-year-old Toby Miller, a hardcore rider, is a fan. "It's amazing. It's a great place to learn. You can just do so many things," he told ABC7. That is the kind of comment that gets the grooming crew all choked up. "I love it. It's the greatest job in the world and I wouldn't trade it for anything," Erath said.

Not even a good night sleep.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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