How To Ski A Halfpipe (For the First Time)

by Anthony Schwabe | Posted On: June 7th, 2022
halfpipe

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So you’ve started freestyle skiing or snowboarding and now you have a taste for it. Now you want to take on the daunting halfpipe, but you don’t know how to. Luckily, that’s where this article comes in. 

The halfpipe requires a new set of skills that are different from slopestyle and traditional skiing and snowboarding. Safety is key when learning to ski the halfpipe. This comes in the form of a good helmet and never attempting overambitious tricks and maneuvers. Patience and dedication are two other key aspects of learning the halfpipe. 

First Thing’s First – What is a Halfpipe? 

snow halfpipe

The halfpipe is one of the most iconic ramps in all extreme sports. The skiing halfpipe can be one of the most extreme versions, with two near-vertical ramps linked together by a flat section, forming a U-shape. 

These icy ramps are usually between 11 and 22 feet tall, and the length of the pipe depends on different locations. 

How Do You Ride Halfpipe?

Halfpipes are used primarily for freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Riders will get around five or six hits on a halfpipe run, depending on their angle of attack and the length of the pipe. The purpose of halfpipes is to spin, flip, cork, and stomp in the coolest, most stylish ways possible. 

This is the beauty of halfpipes. Once you’re airborne, you are free to do whatever you want – given you can land it safely. 

A big part of riding the halfpipe is controlling your speed. By doing this well, you predetermine how much air you will get at each wall. This is one of the most important parts of learning the halfpipe because you’re playing with some serious heights if you just go blazing at the walls.

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Once you have the speeds figured out for that specific halfpipe, you can start trying some more freestyle techniques. 

Another important part of riding the halfpipe is knowing your comfort zone. Training on a trampoline is a great way to give yourself aerial awareness. There is also risk involved in the halfpipe because of the heights involved, so you want a safe place to practice new tricks. 

Beginner’s Tips and Tricks to Try Out: 

Here are some of the best tricks to aim to learn when starting out on the halfpipe. Be sure to check out a more in-depth guide for each of these tricks. 

  • The drop-in. While this isn’t really a trick, it is your first obstacle to learning the halfpipe. Dropping in on a very tall halfpipe can be more challenging than expected, so do some homework before you try it. 
  • Turning on the pipe. Unless you want to ski backward, you should learn how to turn at the top of each wall. 
  • The pop. This is the main way to get the air out of the pipe. It also helps set you up for a good landing. 
  • The alley-oop. This is sort of a mix between popping and turning at the same time. It’s one of the more stylish ways of turning. 
  • The mute grab. The easiest of the grabs and it’ll make you get a true taste of freestyle skiing. 
  • Riding switch or fakie. This is when you ride backward. This is a really useful and stylish way to ski on the halfpipe as it can set you up for cooler tricks as you transition. 

Dos & Don’ts of the Halfpipe

ski park

Here are some of the best tips and tricks for beginners on the halfpipe. That being said, these apply to basically anyone riding the halfpipe, so be sure to try them out if you learn something new. 

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Dos:

  • Learn the halfpipe. Every halfpipe will have slightly different dimensions, making everyone a unique experience. Don’t go all out on your first couple of runs. 
  • Plan your run. Planning sounds like the opposite of freestyling, but when you’re learning the halfpipe you need to know what you plan on doing. Your skills won’t be good enough just yet to go in and attempt random tricks.
  • Use the right skis. Freestyle skis are what you want here. These are different from standard recreational skis as they are turned up at both ends, which allows for a switch or fakie skiing. 
  • Go at your own pace. Leave your ego at the door and don’t let anyone else push you out of your comfort zone on the halfpipe. You should know from practice that you can land a certain trick or jump before you try it on the actual halfpipe. 

Don’ts:

  • Forget the right gear. It’s not advised, but some people can get away with not wearing a helmet on recreational slopes. That’s not the case with the halfpipe. Do not even think about the halfpipe if you don’t have a good helmet with you. 
  • Be overambitious. There’s nothing wrong with hitting smaller jumps multiple times if you aren’t comfortable going higher. Trying to do too much too soon on the halfpipe is a good way to get yourself hurt. 
  • Be inconsistent. Learning the halfpipe can take some time, but it really is rewarding when you graduate from surviving the halfpipe to shredding it. 

Can You Ski a Halfpipe?

Not only can you ski a halfpipe, but it is its own sport in the winter Olympics.  The halfpipe is used for both freestyle skiing and snowboarding. 

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There are even halfpipes used in other sports like skateboarding, freestyle BMX, and others.  

Why Do Skiers Use Poles in Halfpipe?

using poles

Well, not all skiers take their poles with them on the halfpipe. This is true even for professional athletes.  

Poles do offer some extra balance, but they don’t play as big a role in halfpipe as they do in other aspects of skiing. A lot of people are also so used to skiing with their poles that they feel strange without them. 

When it comes to competitions, not having poles can be advantageous when it comes to grabs. Not having an obstruction in your hand means you can grab onto your skis easier. On the other hand, some pros find you can’t hide a missed grab without poles. 

Are Halfpipes Hard?

Yes, they’re hard. They’re made of ice. 

All jokes aside, the difficulty of the halfpipe depends on what you want out of skiing the halfpipe. Olympic-level tricks are insanely difficult. That being said, not everyone is riding the halfpipe with hopes of competing in the Olympics or X Games one day. 

There is definitely a learning curve for beginners, but once you have a couple of things like speed, balance, and jumping accounted for the halfpipe doesn’t seem that daunting anymore. 

Everything with the halfpipe deserves patience and respect though. There is very little margin for error when you’re soaring above a ramp made essentially from ice. This means it does take a long time to safely learn how to ride the halfpipe. 

To Conclude

Winter Games
Photo by Jeremy Little licensed under CC BY 2.0

The halfpipe is one of the coolest parts of freestyle skiing. It really is beautiful in its simplicity. Learning the halfpipe can be less than beautiful though. There is some risk involved in riding the halfpipe, especially when you attempt heights and tricks too far out of your comfort zone. 

Beginners need to remember that learning the halfpipe takes patience and dedication. All of it will be rewarding in the end when you’re able to drop in the pipe and let loose though. Just be sure to wear your helmet.

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