So much for Olympic dreams
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Everybody’s staring, pointing and chuckling at me in this goofy silver and blue one-piece suit, even the kids.Standing in the tow-rope line, the kindergarten-aged kids gape at the spaceman who descended upon Howelson Hill to go ski jumping.”Whose daddy are you?” asks one little boy.”I’m not anybody’s daddy,” I say, thinking how laughable that notion is.”Oh,” the kid says.Neither of us is sure how to continue. An adult-kid awkwardness sets in, similar to how I feel about the ski-jumping planks on my feet. I’m snapped back to attention by an instructor who offers me the lead spot in line.I’m learning to ski jump at Howelson in Steamboat Springs. Former Olympian Gary Crawford gives me the basics in the locker room shortly before the tow-rope debacle. On the approach, get into a crouch and extend off the jump, he says.Nothing about landing.
In the past two years, I’ve been on skis twice. Once over a year ago and then a little practice the day before hitting Howelson. My confidence wanes and my eyes grow wide as I glimpse the monstrous skis I’ll be slapping on my feet.Flashy attireI come to Howelson decked out in my normal gear: snow pants, jacket. But nooo, I get treated to the full ski-jumping experience.”We’ve got a suit for you,” Gary says.Huh? I turn and I’m blinded by the shiniest, silver, one-piece suit my eyes have dared to look upon. Elton John rocketmans into my brain. The suit is called a Meininger, made in Germany, and Gary tells me it’s a fine jumpsuit.Fine if you don’t mind virility problems.
Changing into the suit, I find it’s more form-violating than form-fitting. It’s not too tight around the legs, but then I put my arms in the sleeves and pull the suit over my shoulders. The maneuver ratchets the material uncomfortably around my groin, causing me to gasp.Next are the telemark-like skis I’ll be wearing. The planks measure an absurdly-long 240 centimeters – still well short of the nearly 280-centimeter skis my height and weight would require in regulated competition.Now, imagine strapping your feet into freshly waxed, 8-foot two-by-fours without metal edges and then bombing down a steep incline, off a jump and landing upright on an even steeper slope. This is the stuff blooper videos are made of.Awkwardness sets inCrawford instructs me to take a couple runs down the bunny hill to test the skis. I buckle in, shuffle around the flats a bit and then get into a rope-tow line filled with 5-year-old budding racers.I’m back in the rope tow line. I must look crazy to these kids. Some sort of unfashionable outerspace man or something.Simply pointing the enormous skis uphill for the tow ride is a challenge. I slide around, getting myself into position, while a another ski instructor puts his foot on the back of my ski tips so I don’t slide backwards down the hill.Getting off the rope-tow presents its own problems, but soon my crazy legs attempt to point the skis downhill in a snowplow. Two more practice runs and I’m ready for the big show.
Ready for liftoffAt the top of the ski-jump approach, Crawford tells me to crouch, chest over knees and arms alongside my torso. To launch off the jump, I have to extend my legs, then pivot my feet upward to bring the ski tips up.The jump is more like a bump – it measures just above my ankle, but the landing zone is so steep I can’t see it from the approach. I’ll just have to trust it’s there.Pine boughs mark the takeoff. Skis pointing down hill, Crawford gives me the go ahead.Visions of Olympic glory dance in my mind. I stand atop the podium. Gold is placed around my neck, scantily clad women shower me with champagne, I spray them back.I’ll be the next ski-jumping phenom, immediately asked to join the U.S. Ski Team.Not so fast.
I pound my helmet a couple of times to get psyched up. I push off and get into the crouch. My skis aren’t tracking straight. They’re floating dangerously out from underneath my body. I muscle them back into position. Picking up speed now. Here comes the jump. Extend.Oh boy. I barely get off the ground, just a foot or so. But the steep landing area allows me to travel a bit farther. Touch down and I’m cruising on the runout.A good start. Back up to the top. Crawford instructs me to put my weight evenly on both feet and sit a bit forward to keep my skis from floating away on the approach.I’m go for takeoff. More speed down the hill this time. I hit the jump and push off harder. The right ski goes nearly vertical. More air this time. Whoosh, flying. Whumpf, the two planks hit the ground and I ride out the run. Adrenaline rushing to the brain.”Woo hoo!” I yell, coming to a stop.My confidence is soaring. I’m going for glory on the third and final jump.Crawford says to straighten my legs on takeoff to get more lift. Check. I stand at the approach thinking through the jump. Weight evenly on both feet, shins a bit forward, extend the legs off the jump and point my feet upward.Cruising down the hill at warp speed, I know I’m going to nail the jump. Pop, and I’m jetting through the sky. Slow motion kicks in and I’m seeing the landing coming closer, closer.
Awesome touchdown on the landing.Crawford estimates the final jump measured about 15 meters or about 49 feet. Still, it’s short of the 19-meter record … held by a kid.So much for Olympic dreams.=========Check out some amazing ski-jumping and ski-flying footage at http://www.skijumping.pl/pokaz.php?show=multimedia&typ=skoki. Click on “pobierz film” to play clips.=========Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado