London Calling. Three-time world cup slalom champion Scott Shipley was living out that song by The Clash this summer in Boulder, Colorado. While rivers were raging in the Rockies, he used a local warehouse to build a miniature indoor alternative to the rivers outside: a scale model whitewater arena mimicking the 2012 Olympic course in London, which will be designed and built by Bob Campbell’s Whitewater Parks International.
“It’s a pretty common practice,” says Shipley, president of park design firm S2O Design. “It lets us see how the real course will work, and then tweak it if needed.”
Housed in a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in east Boulder and built by local contractor Elton Randall, the course was an exact replica of the soon-to-be-built London course, down to the gradient and rapids.
While the 300-meter-long London venue will convey 530 cubic feet of water per second, Shipley relied on a fraction of that to get a taste of the torrents to come across the Atlantic. “We pumped thousands of gallons of water into it to emulate the Olympic course,” he says. “It kind of makes you feel like a little kid again.”
Helping with the model’s construction was Randall, whose crew did their best to mimic the London course down to the tiniest whirlpool. “It was an attempt to prove that it would do what its designers thought it would,” he says. “But it was hard to build. The warehouse building had a sloping floor with drains down each side, so it could drain off water at end of the day. But that also meant we had to shoring everything up to get the right pitch.”
Shipley and Randall built six-foot-high walls to replicate the course’s banks, which had to run parallel to the bottom slope of the channel.
“It made you feel like a 12-year-old boy building a fort,” says Randall. “It’s a pretty cool-looking course.”
Shipley adds that, thanks to their model, the course’s engineers ended up making some pretty dramatic changes by eliminating certain beach areas, and adjusting various pitches.
Alas, the model didn’t even last as long as spring runoff. After using it to make a few adjustments to the Real McCoy, Shipley says that all that design work is now water under the bridge. “We had to tear it down in June,” he says. “After we got the information we needed, the cost of rent was too much to keep it running.”