Summer Camp for the Winter Olympics

By: New York Times
October 7, 2013

WANAKA, New Zealand — From the bottom, they look like butterflies, dropping soundlessly into the halfpipe and soaring high above its walls, spinning and flipping, flashes of color cascading over the whiteness. It’s only after they skid to a stop and lift their bug-eyed goggles that you see the dreadlocks and soul patches, the Rockstar and Monster energy-drink logos, the tie-dye slickers and the ubiquitous ear buds.

Snowboarders remain locked in their heads as they compete to their personal soundtracks. Shredders are big on lifestyle and community, but on this beautiful and remote halfpipe, they are focused and withdrawn.

Every August, the world’s best snowboarders come to work on big-air and physics-defying tricks in this tiny town hidden by mountains and surrounded by sheep. The athletes flock here for one reason: Wanaka has the only Olympic-size halfpipe open anywhere in the world at that time of year.

That means, especially heading into an Olympic year, Wanaka becomes a ground zero of aerial somersaults and 360-degree flips that is unlike anything else on the planet.

“We’re a community, and there’s a lot of support, no matter what your country,” said Gretchen Bleiler, who won a silver medal for the United States at the 2006 Turin Games. “But I’m not going to lie: there’s a lot more intensity than usual.”

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