A decision by Whistler Blackcomb to close the 22-foot Global halfpipe on Blackcomb Mountain on April 21, five weeks before the official end of the ski season, has triggered a petition by national team member Katie Tsuyki.
According to the petition, "(Whistler Blackcomb does) not realize their pipe would be 1 of 2 halfpipes open for the end of April and into May in North America. It would be the only one that would be open to the public and affordable to ride."
At press time, the petition at www.thepetitionsite.com had 375 signatures.
For Tsuyuki, now is the worst time of year to close the pipe.
"It's a big feature and it's intimidating for some people to ride when it's cold and icy, and I know people wait for spring for it to soften up and you have a bit of leeway before they ride that feature. It's a great opportunity for the public, not just athletes, to get out and enjoy it," said Tsuyuki, adding that a lot of riders also get distracted by powder and big mountain riding during the winter months, and wait for spring to ride the park and pipe.
Crispin Lipscomb, an athlete and coach, has been helping to spread the word for Tsuyuki and other national team members, and is encouraging skiers and riders to get out as much as possible this week to take advantage of the facility. He's hoping to organize an informal session on Sunday as well.
"It's not formal, just a chance for everybody who loves that halfpipe to ride it and make a last big day out of it," he said.
Lipscomb, who was reached in Colorado while heading to the airport and home to Sea to Sky, said it's been a challenge to coordinate with the freestyle team, provincial teams and other users because many of the teams and athletes are still on the road training and competing.
If the groups were able to join forces and resources, Lipscomb said more could be done to keep the pipe open for Olympic athletes.
According to a statement from Whistler Blackcomb, the decision was made based on user numbers and costs, although they would keep it open if Canada Snowboard, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team or others provided some funding.
"Our decision to close on April 21 is based on the fact we see very little ridership in our halfpipe compared to overall traffic in our (terrain) park," said Whistler Blackcomb. "Taking into consideration that spring snow is always very challenging to work with, we decided to place our resources in the maintenance of the many other features the park provides."
They confirmed that they were in contact with Canada Snowboard in March and provided the organization with a budget to keep the halfpipe open. They have not heard back.
Tsuyuki said that the low user numbers reflect the fact that the most hardcore users — skiers and snowboarders at the provincial and national level — are away training and competing for most of the season. She knows riders that purchased spring passes that are going to ask for refunds because the pipe won't be available.
"I know a lot of international riders that are no longer coming because of this," she said.
"It's not like we're asking them to cut the pipe every day, I just wish we could come up with a compromise where they would cut the pipe two or three times a week.
"Anything would be better than closing it for the season. As of now the only pipe in North America that's open for riding is at Mammoth, and it's actually closed to the public for private training that costs $3,500 a week. The athletes can't afford that."
The lack of funding is not surprising, after Own the Podium and Canada Snowboard slashed support for snowboard halfpipe in recent years based on low expectations for medals in the future. In 2011-2012, the program received less than $25,000 in total funding, which increased slightly this past season with funding for a coach — though very little in additional support for the athletes.
Several members of the national snowboard and ski halfpipe teams do live in Sea to Sky corridor and train in Whistler, which currently boasts the only 22-foot Global pipe in Canada.
Whistler Mountain is closing for operations on April 22, although Blackcomb will remain open until May 27.