The Evolution of Halfpipe in Wanaka

Shaun White, Snowpark NZ. PHOTO: SIMON DARBY

Who would have thought? A multi-million dollar industry in Wanaka revolving around a U-shaped ditch in the snow. Olympic halfpipe snowboarder JULIAN BRAY looks into the local history of her sport. 

About 20 years ago, Cardrona mountain manager Shaun Gilbertson travelled to the USA to research the ski and snowboard industry. He saw the halfpipes at Breckenridge and brought the idea to Wanaka. In 1990, Cardrona had its first halfpipe built from hay bales and snow. This put New Zealand five years ahead of many countries in terms of halfpipe development. From there, innovative groomer drivers Bogan, Brian, Hamish and Rossy built their own equipment known as the Cardrona “blades” to shape the curved walls until the first real pipe shaper came on the scene in 1998. Over the next few years, hundreds of people from overseas flocked to Wanaka to ride halfpipe, and it created enough demand for four halfpipes to be built at Cardrona. Having four pipes operating at a single resort has got to be a record.

Other resorts were making halfpipes at this time too. Treble Cone had a pipe in 1994, Coronet Peak had its own shaper designed by Gary Steedman, which Kassbohrer manufactured in 2000 and Snow Park took it to the next level in 2003 when owner Sam Lee bought in the 18-foot halfpipe building machine the “Zaugg”.

The evolution continued as the resorts battled to have the best facilities upon which Kiwi pro skiers and snowboarders such as Dylan Butt, Mitch and Kendall Brown, Bex Sinclair, the Wells brothers, and the Jackways were able to train and compete with the rest of the world. Jobs were created, tourism increased, New Zealand athletes had world class training facilities, and Wanaka was put on the world map as the place to go for halfpipe skiing and snowboarding.

Over the last five years, Cardrona groomer John Melville has been a major influence on halfpipe development and has built New Zealand’s best pipes. He built his own machine called the Global Cutter and it has been an engineering success.

Not only can Wanaka claim to have influenced the progression of halfpipe building over the years, it can claim to have influenced the engineering of the machinery that has been invented to build the halfpipes. Kiwi ingenuity at its best.


Julian represented New Zealand at the Winter Olympic Games in Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010).


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