If you're watching the Winter X Games this weekend, you might see that insane Super Pipe course and wonder how they cut something that big (22 feet tall) out of snow and make it so perfectly symmetrical. The answer is the Zaugg Pipe Monster. It's like a Zamboni for frozen half-pipes.
Zaugg builds a lot of the blowers you see on tarmacs and highways that are used for clearing. The Swiss company created the Pipe Monster specifically for building super pipes. Its 22-foot arm features a bunch of augers that go into gearboxes which connect. The snow it chews travels down the arm and into a blower that allows you to control where you want the snow to be ejected (including in front of the vehicle, in the off chance that you need to fill in a hole).
"It's really not so much like a Zamboni as it is a sander," said Frank Wells, a Project Manager at Snow Park Technologies, who is in charge of building the super pipe at the Winter X Games. In other words, it's constantly removing snow. They use other machines to create a giant snow bank and then cut it into a very rough version of the pipe's shape. Then they go in with the Zaugg, which sands it down, and gets it nice, smooth, and uniform. Because it's the industry standard for super pipes, snowboarders and skiers can count on the angles being exactly the same at all of the major competitions (X Games, Olympics, U.S. Open of Snowboarding, etc.).
The Pipe Monster is powered off of a single hydraulic motor and it's able to cut up to 25 feet of 18 or 22 foot pipe per minute. It weighs 3250 pounds and attaches to the front end of a snow cat. Frank's preference is to use a Prinoth BR 350 cat pictured here because of it's excellent handling and 360 degree view from the cockpit. The BR 350 is fine when it's cutting uphill (super pipes typically have a grade of 18 percent), but because of the considerable weight the Zaugg's applies to the front-end, the cat's tracks may pop off the ground when going down hill. To combat that, they often attach it to a second BR 350 which remains stationary at the top of the hill, acting as an anchor. The unit with the Pipe Monster attached then "rappels" down, lowering itself down by a winch. This ensures an even cut the whole way through.
Because the Pipe Monster is always removing snow, the walls actually move slightly farther apart each time they are groomed. From the first practice sessions on Thursday to the final day of competition on Sunday, the X Games' pipe has probably gotten six to eight inches wider. "When we build the pipe it's 64 feet wide," says Wells. "But by the end of the season it could be 80 feet wide." The grade and the angle of the walls would remain consistent, which is important for safety, it's just that there would be more flat space in between them.
Zaugg makes two smaller-sized pipe cutters as well, but this is the big daddy. You definitely wouldn't want to pass out on a snowbank and wake up to find this think coming at you. That's what nightmares are made of.