Pipe Dream

The swath in the snow looks as though it were carved by a giant meteor that landed on a down slope and skidded 600 feet before stopping about 100 yards from the main lodge at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

So deep is the rut that it almost qualifies as a canyon. Just a glimpse of the elongated U, from either the lodge or the chair-lift that passes almost directly overhead, gives snowboarders butterflies.

"I haven't been this scared since they opened the original superpipe," said Chris Bradbury, 19, of Huntington Beach, staring up at a beast he hopes to someday tame.

"Gnarly, that's all I've got to say," added Jacob Freeze, 25, of San Clemente.

Gnarly indeed.

The sprawling resort atop this Eastern Sierra town recently made a statement to all other resorts when it opened what it calls the Super-Duper Pipe. Billed as the largest superpipe in North America, the Super-Duper Pipe is 600 feet long, has 22-foot walls and is capable, terrain park manager Oren Tanzer says, of launching top riders 10 or 12 feet above the lip and as high as 35 feet off the pipe's hard bottom.

"It's just another sign of Mammoth's commitment to providing the most innovative new terrain for our loyal skiers and riders," said Kellie Hines, a resort spokeswoman.

Translation: Mammoth, whose terrain parks were already rated at or near the top by ski and snowboard publications, intends to stay there.

To build the Super-Duper Pipe, Mammoth bought an alien-looking piece of machinery called the Zaugg Pipe Monster, which attaches to a snow-cat and is controlled via joystick from inside the cab.

The Pipe Monster can cut, shape and even maintain the smoothest and largest of pipes in a fraction of the time it takes traditional pipe-building tools. Fewer than two dozen resorts in North America have one.

"But demand is increasing every year," said Paul Leck, who distributes the Swiss-made machine. "I think the standard will be set at around 18 1/2 feet. But the pro riders and even the general riders will dictate where we go with size [on future models]. If they want more, then we'll go more."

Mammoth wanted more. It bought an extension accessory that gives its Pipe Monster the ability to attain the maximum 22 feet.

Too high?

On a recent sunny, almost breathless morning at Mammoth, one week after the opening of the Super-Duper Pipe, it seemed so.

The bigger pipe, making the superpipe next to it look puny and simple, loomed ominously in the shadows before dozens of terrain park riders taking their first rides up the mountain.

Though a few wandered by the bigger pipe, some even giving it a half-hearted try, most stuck with the smaller pipe, which was out of the shadows and softening under the rising sun.

By mid-morning, though, the shadows began melting away and the glistening walls of the Super-Duper Pipe beckoned snowboarders of all levels.

"It's a little intimidating at first because you really have to charge the walls to get enough speed to get beyond the lip," said Molly Aguirre, 18, a pro rider from Mammoth. "But I like it. It's definitely where snowboarding is going."

Pete del Giudice, 54, who coached the U.S. snowboarding team's halfpipe specialists during last winter's Olympics, agreed.

Asked if Mammoth were setting a dangerous precedent, he said the bigger pipe is actually safer than the smaller pipe in at least one respect: It has a much larger curved transition area between the flat bottom and the sheer "vert" section of wall leading to the top.

"Since the pipe is so big and there is such a large transition area, even if you drift out over the pipe [in the air] you have this large sloped area to land on," Del Giudice said. "But like anything, it's going to take the general public some time to get used to it. That's why my son and I are here, to check it out."

Dustin del Giudice, 28, was among the few early riders able to soar high above the walls. After a few runs he likened the Super-Duper Pipe to a wickedly hollow and notoriously dangerous Tahitian surfing break called Teahupoo.

"When you first look at this, it looks a lot like that crazy wave," he said. "If I was to think like a surfer, then this would be my Teahupoo. And just like Teahupoo, there are guys who will kill it and guys that get hurt."

His father added, "Just like on a big-surf day, there is always one rider who has it together and charges it. Once other people see that, they follow suit. It's the same thing here."

With that, the Del Giudices dropped in and went flying off the walls, with those behind them following suit.

*

After some debate, last weekend's halfpipe portion of the Built Ford Tough Championships of Snowboarding was switched from the superpipe to the Super-Duper Pipe. Mammoth Lakes resident Tommy Czeschin took advantage of the change and edged Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers, largely by pulling off a front-side 900 revolution and back-to-back 720s on his third run.

Eddie Wall, also from Mammoth, won the slopestyle competition.

Rock & Reel Fantasy

Anthony Hsieh, founder and chief executive of the Home Loan Center in Irvine, has come up with the perfect motivating tool. It's a company yacht called Bad Company, moored in Cabo San Lucas.

The top employee each month gets airline tickets for two, the use of a condo for two nights and three days -- and one day aboard one of the finest sportfishing yachts around, a 60-foot Hatteras built at a cost of $2.5 million.

October's employee of the month was Cece Palmieri. She took her trip last weekend and she and husband, Mike, are still coming down from their adrenaline rush. They experienced a quadruple hookup on striped marlin, with each of the four running in a different direction. The Palmieris and two deckhands each grappled with a fishing rod while skipper Martin Herrera maneuvered the boat.

When Palmieri became the first to get her marlin to the boat, Herrera scampered down, grabbed the leader and attempted to remove the hook. Amid the chaos, however, the line wrapped around and sliced off part of his little finger.

"He insisted on staying and getting all the fish in," Palmieri said. "And needless to say, we headed straight for the emergency hospital after we did."

Hot Bites

* Santa Catalina Island: Mark Hall, captain of the commercial squid boat Lil Jack, reported to www.976tuna.com the first significant showing of squid. He added that he and fishermen aboard other light boats on the backside of the island have been catching white seabass sporadically in the dark. This could be an indication of an impending run of the popular game fish -- the first of the winter.

* Cabo San Lucas: Bad Company's success was no fluke. Several boats, over the last two weeks, have returned to port flying two to four marlin flags. Most of the fish are being caught on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula.

* Zijuatanejo: Boats are averaging three to five sailfish a day and some have posted double-digit releases. Dorado are plentiful too.

"There were many days where the boats were flying every flag they had, and there were still fish unaccounted for," fly-fishing guide Ed Kunze reported.

Winding Up

Danny Engleking of Monticello, Ind., on Tuesday was fined for trying to rig a fishing tournament by retrieving the prize-winning catch from a sunken cage.

Engleking, 40, was busted in August after a surveillance camera showed him loading five bass from the cage onto his boat during a contest on Lake Shafer in northwestern Indiana.

Police had set up the camera after a passerby reported seeing the cage in a secluded tributary.

Because his five fish were the heaviest, he was deemed the winner.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, a felony theft charge was dropped and Engleking pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for claiming the $300 first prize.

He will pay a $25 fine and $132 in court costs, and will serve no jail time.

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