PARK CITY — Snow-groomers-turned-heavy-equipment-operators are spending the dog days of summer burrowing the largest Olympic snowboard halfpipe ever into a hillside at Park City Mountain Resort.
And immediately after the last rider throws down his last trick in the 2002 Winter Games, they'll give it an unceremonious burial. Snowboard and alpine ski racers will then trample the snowy grave on their way through the parallel giant slalom and giant slalom courses, respectively, that will be set over the top of it.
Park City and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee have come up with a unprecedented way to accommodate spectators and satisfy an International Olympic Committee requirement that snowboard events, including slalom and halfpipe, all finish in the same place.
Tractors are moving some 50,000 cubic yards of dirt to widen and steepen the snowboard venue finish area in the Eagle Race Arena at the base of the resort. The venue calls for more than 500,000 square feet of mostly man-made snow, an area greater than 33 football fields.
The halfpipe at the bottom of C.B.'s Run will be one-third below ground.
Park City will bring in a special, high-priced machine known as a "pipe dragon" to carve out a bigger-than-usual halfpipe known as a "super pipe."
At the conclusion of the halfpipe competition, the trough will be filled with snow and groomed for the snowboard races that begin two days later.
"It didn't happen this way in Nagano," said Melissa O'Brien, Park City communications manager.
Workers will have 48 hours to push tons of snow over the halfpipe and transform the run into a slalom course for both snowboard and alpine skiing.
"Based on my experience and the experience of the groomers, it's doable," said Hervig Demschar, SLOC director of alpine sports. "It depends on how much grooming equipment you have, and you have enough at Park City."
The existing halfpipe on the PayDay run has two major drawbacks.
First, many snowboarders say it's too small and therefore too dangerous for the kinds of aerial spins and twists they want to perform. (That argument helped prompt the International Ski Federation, which governs snowboarding worldwide, to approve a super pipe for the 2002 Olympics.)
Second, it is only accessible via Sno-Cat or riding the chairlift and skiing down.
"That's what these events are all about — people being able to watch. That feeds a lot of the athletes' passion for the sport," O'Brien said. Park City will erect bleachers in the finish area and build a mound parallel to the halfpipe for viewing.
Halfpipe riders also have a passion for "phat" tricks, meaning exceptional maneuvers that catch big air. Traditional halfpipes on the World Cup tour aren't big enough to satisfy their craving to soar higher and twist more. Americans particularly prefer the spacious dimensions of a "super pipe," seen in only a handful of North American resorts.
Super pipes are longer and wider and have higher walls than regular halfpipes. The transition from the lip to the bottom is more gradual. A rider who fails to pull off a high-flying trick is more likely to land on the sloped wall and slide to the bottom rather than plunge straight to the hard-packed floor, which two of the world's top riders from Sweden did, attempting aerials called McTwists at the World Cup meet in Park City last season. Both had to withdraw because of injuries.
"The chances of injury are less" in the bigger halfpipe, Demschar said. "It's a safe pipe." It also gives snowboarders the opportunity to better showcase their rapidly developing sport, he said.
Park City will get a chance to practice the Herculean snow-grooming feat prior to the Winter Games.
The snowboard World Cup event scheduled for next March will follow the same format as the Olympics.
The trench being dug now for the halfpipe will be covered with snow for the America's Opening World Cup skiing event held at the Eagle Race Arena in November.
The resort hopes to have the super pipe built by mid-January, weather and snow conditions permitting.
It will then be open to the public.