The next revolution: Snowboarding’s spectacular but risky double cork upping the ante in the halfpipe
Tahoe Daily Tribune
TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. – It’s a beautiful sight – a snowboarder gripping his board tightly as he ducks into two off-axis rotations some 15 feet above the wall of a supersized halfpipe.
Olympic gold medalist Shaun White has the trick dialed. So does Truckee’s Danny Davis and a few others among snowboarding’s elite halfpipe competitors.
But is the progression that is causing some of the most skilled riders to wonder about their future in the sport a good thing for snowboarding?
Most people involved in the industry say yes, that an evolution benefits the athletes and spectators alike. Others such as Truckee pro snowboarders Andy Finch and Chas Guldemond have mixed feelings, while local coaches and terrain park builders are all for progressing the sport, but with an emphasis on safety.
The trick, known as a double cork, has become a hot topic in this Olympic year. Particularly since New Year’s Eve, when Kevin Pearce, one of the best halfpipe riders in the world, suffered a serious brain injury crashing on a double-cork attempt in practice.
Pearce was completing a cab double cork when he caught his toe edge and fell, knocking himself unconscious. While doctors have since removed his breathing tube and upgraded his condition from critical to serious, he remains in intensive care in a Utah hospital.
Despite Pearce’s injury just days prior, riders who do own the trick threw down their variations of the double cork in a Jan. 6 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix – the first of two Olympic qualifiers at Mammoth that week.
Davis, a member of the “Frends Crew” along with Pearce, landed an unprecedented three double corks in the same run that day to upstage White and earn first place. On the podium, Davis paid tribute to his good friend by waving a sign on a stick with a peace symbol that read, “Pearce Be With You.”
“This can happen to anybody, anywhere. You can catch your edge just riding down the slope and smash your face,” Davis said after the contest. “Kevin was trying a really heavy trick. The last thing Kevin would want is for us to stop trying those tricks, not snowboard and be all scared. We have to keep that in mind, that he wants us to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Other riders echoed Davis’ sentiment at the Grand Prix contest, including those who have not yet learned the trick, but hope to before the Games roll around the second week of February.
“I would like to learn it, yeah,” said Elijah Teter of South Lake Tahoe. “I definitely was thinking about it. But on the day I was gonna do it Kevin hurt himself real bad, so, I don’t know, I’ve just been keeping it mellow and going with tricks I know … We’re going out to Park City (Utah) after this, and I’m going to go train out there and see how it comes.”
Halfpipe veteran JJ Thomas placed third behind White and Louie Vito in the second Mammoth Grand Prix stop with a run that did not include a double cork. Yet he, too, said he wishes he had the trick in his repertoire.
“I think it’s an awesome-looking trick. I love it,” Thomas said. “But I’m too scared to try it.”
A double cork consists of two off-axis spins in the air.
While it’s not necessarily the most technical trick in the book, it is risky. Unlike a normal spinning trick such as a 1080, where a rider can open their spin early and land one rotation short, under-rotating an inverted trick such as the double cork is not an option.
“It looks a little better (than a spin), in my opinion, but the consequences are gnarly,” said Finch, a member of the 2006 Olympic halfpipe team. “With the double cork, if you open up you’re landing on your head. You’re fully committed.”
A veteran of the halfpipe discipline at age 28, Finch is one of many top riders who does not have a double cork. Instead, he said he’s trying to qualify for his second Olympic Games by sticking to what he knows best – huge airs landed cleanly.
“I wasn’t quite 100 percent before the end of the summer, when I tried a couple into an airbag just to see. And they came around, but honestly, this late in my career, there’s really no point in getting broke doing them,” Finch said. “I’ve seen some pretty bad crashes – some of them lucky, and Kevin not so lucky. It’s a risky trick. It’s a lot of spinning and flipping from a pretty low altitude.”
There are many variations of the trick – from more of a straight-over flip, to a true off-axis double spin, to Davis’ version, which looks more like an inverted 720 into a front flip. Most riders are throwing a variation of a double-cork 1080.
The trick has received much publicity since it was pulled from the snowboard archives in the past year – simply because it pushed the bar in halfpipe competition, and, more recently, because of Pearce’s injury. Davis then captivated the snowboard world with his three double corks in one run.
White has been credited with bringing the trick to the forefront of halfpipe riding, despite the fact that it was done more than a decade ago on pipes less than half the height of the 2010 Olympic standard, which measures 22 feet.
While there is a substantial list of snowboarders who have pulled off some form of the double cork – including Kim Christensen of Norway and Canadian Mike Michalchuk, among others – White made it a priority for his competitors when he learned it this past March. Named Project X, Red Bull built him a private 22-foot pipe complete with a foam pit in Silverton, Colo.
The use of a foam pit to learn a new trick is where Finch questions the nature of the sport’s progression.
“I have mixed emotions about it,” Finch said. “It’s real impressive, but at the same time, I’m kind of bummed where it’s going, just because everything we used to do we learned in the halfpipe – whether it was a soft day or just learning on ice. It was kind of a pure sport, I think. But now I see it going in the direction of the water ramps like in aerials skiing, where you go practice on a foam pit 100 times before you ever even try it on snow.”
Guldemond, one of the best slopestyle riders around, and someone who’s not a stranger to halfpipe competition, agreed with Finch.
“I have mixed feelings about the trick as a friend of mine, Kevin Pearce, was seriously injured in Park City practicing the double cork,” Guldemond said. “I am all for the natural evolution of our sport, but I am a bit weary. As athletes we all need to know our limits and take things slow and only do tricks when we are confident and ready, or else you run the risk of serious injury.”
Guldemond, who’s working on a double cork of his own to add to his slopestyle runs, said the caliber of halfpipe riding right now is “one notch above” where’s he’s willing to go in the pipe.
“I don’t think there will be any snowboarders on the United States Snowboard Team in Vancouver that don’t have a double cork or two or three in their run,” Guldemond said.
– Steve Yingling contributed to this story.
Click on http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/doublecork to see a slideshow showing a double cork by Danny Davis Saturday during the Olympic qualifier in Mammoth.