Millions of eyes will look upon the work of one Durango man and his two partners when the world’s top skiers and snowboarders drop into the halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Mark Pevny, a 2002 Durango High School and 2007 Fort Lewis College graduate, is part of a three-man team tasked with building the halfpipe for this year’s contests. Pevny will be joined by longtime friend and mentor Jake Ingle and Austria’s Alli Zehetner for the construction of the halfpipe.
“Frankly, I’d do this for free. It’s the experience of the Olympics,” Pevny said. “This experience is going to be incredible. I can’t even imagine having 100,000 people in one place watching the pipe.
“It’s all going to come down to the weather. We could do the absolute best pipe in the world, and if it rains or is 60 degrees outside, we’re gonna be those people that Bob Costas is asking riders, ‘How’s the pipe? Another bad one.’ But we’re not going to think about that.”
Building a halfpipe for the Olympics is a tricky task. The last couple Olympics have not been kind to builders, as snow was airlifted into Vancouver in 2012 because of abnormally warm conditions, and rain and warm temperatures in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 also made building a 22-foot-tall, 70-foot-wide and nearly 600-foot-long pipe an unenviable task.
The three-man team went to South Korea for a test event that doubled as a World Cup event last February. Pevny said it went smooth, and that gives them hopes for reversing the recent Olympic trend.
“We couldn’t have done better,” he said. “The only thing was, we didn’t have enough snow for us to build it out to full length, so it was a little bit shorter and they couldn’t get that fifth or sixth hit. This year, we have whatever we want. If we can do the same, it will be great and a success. If we can do better, perfect.”
Pevny, 33, and crew will leave Jan. 15 to begin moving dirt and snow at the Phoenix Snow Park. For Pevny, it will signal the height of his already impressive career as a halfpipe builder, a job he never imagined possible when he built his first jumps in Durango at Purgatory Resort.
‘We were bad’Pevny moved with his parents, Barbara and Ron, from Denver to Durango in the early 1990s. He got involved in skiing when he was 8 through the Sno Katz Kids program at Hesperus Ski Area. By the time he was 13, Pevny and his friends were in awe of freeskiers and the tricks they would see their favorite athletes perform in movies such as “Degenerates.”
“The whole freeski movement had started, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Pevny said. “We wanted to be pro skiers, do backflips, all that. It all started with, ‘I want to build this because me and my buddies want to ride it.’ We were bad.”
Pevny began to volunteer at Purgatory when he was 15, but he had to wait until he was 18 to drive a snowcat.
“I was the guy holding the rake,” he said. “There was no standard for park building 20 years ago, especially at Purg that had such a limited budget. We’d push a pile of snow, rake it out. My buddy, Brian Campbell, was the head builder up there. One day he asked if I wanted to drive the cat and build a jump. It was the worst little Wu-Tang booter of all time, but that’s how it started and I fell in love with it.”
Growing up, Pevny and his pals gave his parents plenty of scares, especially when they were performing tricks that were not yet allowed at Purgatory. A group of the parents sat the boys down and expressed their fears, but the parents and young shredders agreed to each pay half for the kids to go to a camp at Whistler in British Columbia where they would receive instruction from professionals.
“Mark and his friends had a tremendous experience there, became even more passionate about terrain park activities, and our fears were reduced,” Ron Pevny said.
When Pevny was 18, he got hired full time at Purgatory and worked there for six years. Feeling as though he had reached his ceiling at Purgatory, Pevny fired out a few applications to mountains in Summit County, but he didn’t land a job. Finally, he got a call from Park City in Utah for the 2010-11 season. His career path immediately began to unfold.
“I mean, Park City was the terrain-park Mecca for skiers. The best halfpipe there was,” Pevny said. “They basically called me and asked if I could cut a halfpipe. I told them I had run the cutter, the little 13-foot cutter, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. They told me it was fine and that the 22-foot cutter was the same, just bigger. I got there, and I had never even seen a superpipe like that.”
Park City is where Pevny first met Ingle, a man from Michigan who would go on to teach Pevny everything he needed to know. Ingle sat right next to Pevny when he cut his first 22-foot pipe. Pevny admitted to being so nervous his stomach churned. His first pipe was far from perfect, but it was passable. It fueled a passion for Pevny that bordered on the edge of obsession. He would fall asleep dreaming about cutting the pipe.
“Ingle and the other park builders there were doing it at such a high level setting the bar,” Pevny said. “It motivated me. It was a different level than Purgatory, and I realized guys were doing this as a career, inventing new methods and all that. I knew then I wanted to be good at this.”
‘Kept coming back’Pevny spent two years at Park City, but he quickly got burned out and thought about quitting. But he couldn’t stay out of the pipe for long.
“When he tried for several months to find some security in a marketing job in Denver, while he did a good job and enjoyed success, it was so obvious to us and him that it brought him no joy,” Ron said. “He is not a cubicle person.”
One day, Pevny got a call from a friend who worked at Mount Bachelor in Oregon, which needed a pipe built in 11 days. Pevny dropped everything and built an 18-foot pipe for riders such as Ben and Gabe Ferguson.
From there, Pevny got a chance to build a 22-foot pipe at Mammoth Mountain in California and worked at Mammoth for two years. Now, he’s back at Copper Mountain where the Woodward Copper training center has become nationally famous.
“It took my family and friends a long time to realize that, yeah, this might be a viable career,” Pevny said. “I always had this, ‘Yeah, I’m going for it,’ mentality. There were days I would spend 16 hours in the pipe when I didn’t need to, but I was trying so hard to get good at it and learning every little thing. I tried to quit twice, but I just kept coming back.”
Coming back has paid off for Pevny, who has cut private pipes for riders such as Shaun White while working alongside some of his favorite athletes, including skiers Tanner Hall, Torin Yater-Wallace and David Wise, and snowboarder Travis Rice. On a pipe Pevny built at Mammoth, Yiwei Zhang landed the first-ever cab triple cork in a pipe. Pevny also recalled watching White hit five doubles in one run in the private pipe he built him for a GoPro commercial.
“It’s so scary watching these guys. But, man, it’s so crazy to watch it evolve,” Pevny said. “I want to be the one pushing these guys and creating that halfpipe where they’re going to learn the new double or new triple.”
‘The flat bottom’Ingle and Zehetner will cut the walls of the pipe, while Pevny’s job will be building the flat bottom in PyeongChang. Zehetner does pipe cutting for World Cup events in Europe, and Ingle and Pevny have worked together for World Cups and several Grand Prix events, including the December competition at Copper.
“Jake and I have worked together on six different pipes, and this is where I got lucky for this Olympic opportunity,” Pevny said. “When we’re running cats side-by-side, we don’t even have to think about it. So when he got approached by the (International Ski Federation) and International Olympic Committee and needed a third dude, I was lucky and willing to take a little bit less money. My job is the flat bottom where the walls meet. That’s always been my strong point.”
Pevny knows every rider is different and some will like the Olympic pipe and others won’t.
Pevny and his team have all the resources and experience to build a pristine pipe, now they can only hope for low temperatures and proper winter weather.
“It’s a wild thing,” Pevny said. “There’s so much money thrown around at the Olympics. It’s hard to even sum it up. When we did the test event last year, I could have been cool with just that and knowing we did a great job. To be immediately invited back was confirmation that we couldn’t have done any better. It means we’ve all put in a lot of hard work to get here. Now it’s time to get it done. It’s going to be great.”