SIERRA-AT-TAHOE - Bigger can equal best in the competitive world of snowboarding, according to the resort's terrain park supervisor.
"It depends on who you are," Chris Garvey said. "But for these guys who will be here this week, bigger is definitely better."
Garvey is heading up the mission to create the perfect playing field for the Vans Triple Crown tour, which makes a stop at Sierra-at-Tahoe today through Sunday.
The Vans final stop will also serve as a continuation course for one of the three Triple Crown events that was canceled due to stormy weather earlier this year.
In an attempt to make up for lost time, this week's competition is packed with action. Boarders will contend with two snowboard cross runs, a big air ramp and a slopestyle course. In a fight for $200,000 in prizes - one of the wealthiest purses in snowboarding's history - the riders will also fly from one of the largest halfpipes ever made in North America.
Vans hired halfpipe consultant Frank Wells, of Breckenridge, Colo., to carve the steepest halfpipe ever constructed for competition. The project pours into Sierra's base area, on Main Street run.
Using a Bombardier snow cat and a device called a Super Pipe Dragon, he will form a smooth halfpipe that is much bigger than the typical pipe found in resort snowparks.
"The pitch is about 17 1/2, the walls will be 15 feet high and about 350 feet long," Wells said Sunday, eyeing his half-completed sculpture from the bottom up. "The level has come up a lot this year and the riders don't want anything except super pipes in competition."
Though bigger and steeper than the average 12-degree halfpipe, Wells said the super pipe won't offer longer rides.
"They'll get about five or six hits, which isn't that much, but what they get will be big," the former professional snowboarder said. "They'll be out about 15 feet from the top (of the halfpipe) and about 30 feet from the ground."
Garvey, whose regular job is shaping the terrain features at the resort, said the courses are built mainly by Sierra-at-Tahoe employees with the oversight of event officials. The features have no standard specifications.
"It's not like freestyle skiing with stringent and strict guidelines," Garvey said. "There are no specs in snowboarding because the sport is still growing and developing. An incredible amount of consideration goes into this."
According to Garvey, more than 40 employees have dedicated their full-time schedule during the last week to the event site, which is scattered along different portions of the mountain.
Wells, who works independently, will spend more than 150 hours in the snow cat before the halfpipe is completed on Wednesday. If it snows during the week, he'll rack up even more hours.
"That just means that I'll be out here all night," he said. "But the pipe is steep enough that, even if we get 6 inches of snow on it, it won't be a problem (with keeping up speed)."
If he works all night, he said won't sleep all day.
"Everything I build, I ride," Wells said. "I test all my work - that's the privilege."
The halfpipe competition kicks off Saturday at 9 a.m. with the men's qualifying heat and continues into Sunday.
Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding
Today: Registration and training
Noon-3:30 p.m. - Big air training, Aspen
Noon-3:30 p.m. - Snowboard cross, Gauntlet
Tuesday: Snowboard cross and big air competition
Wednesday: Big air competition and registration for the following events
Thursday: Snowboard cross
Friday: Snowboard cross and slopestyle qualifying heats
Saturday: Halfpipe qualifying heat and slopestyle finals
Sunday: Halfpipe finals and awards