October 2-4, 20-12, we sent 8 candidates for our freeski team down to the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation facility in Park City, Utah, a training ground for aspiring winter athletes. Below are the chronicles of their experiences. Read from the bottom.
SUCCESS – Day 3
by Pip Hunt
Ahh, the sweet taste of success. A perfect back-flip, your first misty, whatever the trick may be, you feel victorious. Today everybody tasted a little bit of success. It felt like all the whiplash and swollen faces from crashing face first into the aerated water were finally worth it.
All the girls were eager and nervous to work on their backflips. Why backflips? They are an iconic big mountain trick. From Seth Morrison hucking massive backflips in Matchstick Production Films in the late 90’s, to Suz Grahame’s massive double that won her the Redbull Rampage two years ago, they never go out of style. But despite being a technically easy trick, getting inverted for the first time is mentally challenging.
Hadley is in charge of her mind. She doesn’t let it fill with scenarios of stalling upside down, plummeting 20 feet head first into the water. Instead she stands tall on the ramp, eyes focused on the lip, determined to flip. There is no try. There are no excuses. There is only execution.
Her first jump comes up only slightly short. We hear Tony yell “Pull!” and Hadley tucks her knees just as tips come in contact with the water, a slight under-rotation. But she has it, and she knows it.
She climbs the steps back to the start, dripping wet, shivering involuntarily in the chilly, 45 degree air. She waits patiently for her turn to jump again, analyzing the maneuver, and Tony’s advice. As she steps on the ramp, I think I see a little bit of nerves in her eyes, but maybe that is because both Monica and I have by now taken several plunges head first into the pool, completely stalled out, and scrambling to find our skis once again below our feet.
She points her left hand down the ramp, hop turns, and lets her skis run freely. She drives her hips forward, throws her arms in the air, tucks, extends, and lands squarely on two feet. First backflip? Check.
FATIGUE – Day 3
by Scott Sheer
Fatigue like no other today. Day 2 brought soreness, but today the overall word is fatigue. Mountain Athlete taught us mental fitness and our professionalism keeps us going forward.
At the pool and tramps this morning it is a brisk 36F. Three of us see a platform we use as a box jump to warm-up tired muscles. We linger and stretch just a little bit longer. We hit the tramps and I see the ease of movement as everyone is bringing a new sense of comfort from the two precious days of long practice. Even I was back flipping right off the bat. Now, two days ago I couldn’t jump on a trampoline correctly, so I feel the improvement has been substantial.
We take it to the ramps and the comfort is there as well. From Hadley and Pip spinning and flipping like a top to Tess’s graceful front flip, everyone hits new benchmarks despite the fatigue. Sam, Shea, and Griffin showed they are the masters of air awareness as they were throwing tricks every which way while Monica worked through her new tricks with determination.
Forrest showed the most perseverance. Coming back from an injury day, he showed up an pulled off a new trick: Rodeo 540’s. As for myself, the token snowboarder, well let’s just say making it to the end of the ramp was the name of the game. I did start to work on some different grabs with a flip by the end of the day: a truly personal victory.
We say goodbye to our coaches, I must admit there was a part of me that was happy to say goodbye – that part being my body – but my mind was telling me, “One more flip, a couple more spins. Wait, I almost got it.” As we head back into the gym for the next couple months I will have so many thoughts running through my mind; I can’t wait to put my new found skills to the snow! I want to say thank you to Mountain Athlete, Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation Aerials program, and Best Western Plus for their amazing afternoon treats.
BETTER THAN THAT: THE MIND IS AN OBSTACLE – Day 2
By Pip Hunt
Monica owns the trampoline.
She gracefully bounces from her toes arms outstretched and hips driving forward as she propels herself into her signature move: the backflip. The 13 years as a gymnast are apparent in her ease and grace. This morning, she thought it would be the easiest trick for her to transition to the water ramps. But sometimes the mind gets in the way of what the body can naturally do.
Monica stood atop the ramp, shivering in the breeze, nervous and filled with adrenaline. “I just don’t know how to do it!” She said.
“It’s the same as a trampoline, just throw your arms up, push off your legs, and tuck.” Easier said than done.
The EMT signaled for ramp one and Monica hop turned onto the take-off, arms forward, anticipating, anticipating, anticipating…. The take-off came and went, and Monica was paralyzed by her nervousness.
The next lap you could see the frustration in her face. “I can do backflips. I do them all the time. I just don’t know what is the matter with me!” But she stepped back onto the ramp and tried again. And again, and again. Each time making progress, throwing her arms up a little further, tucking her knees a little tighter, but still not making it all the way around. The final jump she landed completely upside down, struggling to get her head above water and her skis below her.
She shivered out of her wetsuit in the cool 50 degree weather, revealing the bruises covering her lumbar spine from her numerous attempts. “I just really wanted to do it. I know I can do it. I’m just not doing it. I’m better than that.”
We took a break then headed back to the tramps, where Monica once again bounced effortlessly between backflips. “Why can I do it here and not there? Why is it so different?”
“It’s not different, it’s the same,” Tony encouraged.
“No, it’s not, I have momentum, I have to jump out when I’m on skis.”
“No, you don’t. When you’re on skis you don’t jump out, you jump up, just like on the trampoline. It’s the same movement. You have it.” Tony instructed while demonstrating the difference in jumping out versus up on the trampoline. Monica sat, thoughtful, thinking about what she needed to change to master the backflip tomorrow.
“I just want to do it. I want to be the first girl to try. I’m not used to being scared!”
PROGRESSION – Day 2
By Scott Sheer
We wake up with smiles on our face as the weather forecast was wrong and the day was full of abundant sunshine. Although everyone was sore these mountain athletes were ready to use the muscle memory they learned the previous day to progress.
At the warm up session you see the divide in the group immediately: the advanced crew on one tramp and the progression group on the other. Not to say the advanced group is not progressing, just more perfecting the highly advanced skill they already possess. From double flat spins to flat spin 1400’s, I am seeing true athleticism in front of my eyes. As for myself, I was not seeing the progression so much as digression. My muscle memory was not firing with my brain.
In the pool, I saw the ladies going for all types of tricks from backflips, frontflips, and 360’s. One skier in particular was throwing down hard: Shea Fischer. Shea threw his first Rodeo 720, a back flip with 2 rotations. This is a highly skilled and athletic move. A brisk wind moved in and the water seemed like the Arctic.
After lunch seemed to be the turning point for most athletes. With extra time on the tramp I saw Shea throw a double backflip and a Bio 900. As for myself, it finally clicked just doing repetitve flips forward and backwards. I feel it was the different coaching styles all coming together for me. With this newly found confidence Griffin,Tess, Little Sam, Shea and I all suited up for the ramps. This time around the frigid water of the pool was not so forgiving and gave us some hesitation. Shea started off by perfecting his new tricks, and trying to add some creativity to them. I perfected back and front flips on the ramp and Tess did some sweet front flips.
Tomorrow brings our last day at the Olympic training center and I feel it will be the best day yet. These are true athletes and with training there is definitely progression.
FEAR AND FLIPPING IN PARK CITY – Day 1
by Pip Hunt
“Sometimes the best thing to do is just do it. When my athletes are trying a new trick, I never give them any direction the first time. I just tell them to try,” Coach Tony told me. This was completely opposite from how I’d ever learned a new trick. I meticulously study where to spot, where my hips go and where I put my hands, before I ever try anything new. “Just throw your arms in front like you’re throwing a basketball. You’ll get it.”
At the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation facility in Park City, Utah, I stood at the top of the water ramp, procrastinating my first front-flip attempt. I allowed Hadley, then Monica, then Tess to jump in line before me as I stared at the ramp, the pool, and the sky. My teeth chattered in the cool breeze and I thought about everything that could go wrong.
“You can do this Pip,” I told myself. “What’s the worse thing that could happen? I’ll land funny, maybe douse my sinuses in chlorine, and lose a little bit of my pride.” I took three deep breaths and stepped out on the plastic ramp. I visualized my take-off, my hands pushing into the air, my legs tucking in behind me, the splash as I hit the pool. I waited for the signal. I hop turned so hard I nearly crashed on the ramp, steadied myself, and took off, throwing my hands forward into a superman dive…
But wait, let’s back up: the water ramps have long been a place of trepidation and excitement. Every summer, both professional and amateur winter athletes flock to the pool to practice flips and spins. Aerialists complete graceful triple and quad flips, while seven- and eight-year-olds learn the basics.
We started on the trampolines, focusing on fundamental jumping skills first; back flips, front flips, spotting, and full hip extension. As sport-specific athletes, it can be difficult to understand how applicable the resistance training we’ve been doing since mid-May is to our sport, but as coaches Tony and Meg constantly reiterated the importance of fully extending the hips, all the hang cleans, box jumps, and kettlebell swings made sense. Hip extension is a fundamental component to jumping and the initiation of any trick.
The water ramps presented a completely different challenge than the trampolines, and while hip extension was still important, mental strength was key. The first couple of jumps progressed slowly, as all athletes manipulated their take-off on the dry slope. Soon Sam, Shay, and Griffin were experimenting with flatspins, backflips, and corks. Hadley dialed her 360, progressively executing a cleaner grab and overall smoother trick each time.
While seemingly everyone else is moving on, I just wanted to nail my straight–airs before trying to spin or flip. But, after two hard landings, and a mild onset of whiplash, Jen Hudak, my volunteer coach of the day, suggested I move onto front flips. I was terrified. I have never attempted a front flip on a trampoline until today, let alone on skis. Here was Jen suggesting that I try without even having a steady take-off.
So, back to me in mid-air, hands thrust out like a caped superhero. “TUCK!” I heard Tony yell from the side of the pool. I pulled my knees in, just in time for my body to rotate and my skis to meet the water, base first.
My first front flip.
ANTICIPATION OVERWHELMS PATIENCE – Day 1
by Scott Sheer
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock
We could see the Olympic training facility from our hotel. The fact we could see the ramps from miles away made us all a little nervous.. We arrived at the facility at 9 a.m., a half-hour early. You could say the anticipation was extremely high!!
We got right to it with trampoline training. The progress was immediate, with 2 athletes throwing their first ever back flips. For most of the athletes this was remedial reminders and they were itching to get on the ramps. The young seemed to be the standouts and Little Sam was ready to throw down today.
Talking with Sam it seemed his overall struggle was with patience. Over and again, I see the pattern of anticipation and athletes getting ahead of themselves. To a certain degree, this is understandable as our training has made him resistant to injuries and able to take the abuse that we threw at our bodies today. The practical training is there. The coaching we received today is definitely an integral part of this facility, a fact we feel is really going to be able to make the big difference when the snow flies.