Ski jumpers compete with the heat on Howelsen Hill
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Before even competing in ski jumping, athletes have a long journey up Howelsen Hill.
First, is the magic carpet. Picture a moving walkway, but on an angle, bringing skiers about a third of the way to the top of the HS75 jump.
From there, they trek up wooden slats or the stairs alongside the HS40 jump starting gates. Then, they zig-zag through the trees up to the starting gates for the HS75. All the while, they’re carrying skis, walking in clunky boots and wearing a body suit designed for winter use.
Making matters all the more exhausting, the temperature hit 80 degrees during the first round of Jumpin’ and Jammin’ on Wednesday, July 3.
Once at the top of the hill, they wait for their turn in limited shade. Their run takes about six seconds, after which they make the journey up the hill again.
“Everyone has their own way of staying cool,” former U.S. National Ski Team member Michael Ward said. “For me, I hike up without the suit on and just wear our briefs underneath. There’s not really a way to stay cool. It’s quite warm today. I know a lot of the jumpers were feeling it.”
In the heat, not only do riders have to stay hydrated, but the jump does, too. When the turf landing hill fades from a dark green to a lighter shade, it’s dried out. Sprinklers along the side keep the material slick and safe to land on.
The event, which ran two hours later than planned, attracted jumpers from all over the U.S., including Junior National Team member Aidan Ripp, who hails from northern Minnesota.
“It was a really long day, actually,” Ripp said. “I got here at 8 a.m., and I’ve been here all the way until 2:30, so yeah, I’ve been sweating so much today.”
Jumpin’ and Jammin’ even brought back Ward, a former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete, who hadn’t jumped in three years.
“I, luckily, had a week off of work this summer, so I figured I’d come back and try to jump a little bit,” Ward said. “It’s been three years. It was a new experience again, but it’s kind of like riding a bike, and it feels good now.”
Ward, who was a part of the U.S. National Ski Team from 2012 to 2016, competed for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for four years after moving to Steamboat Springs from Aspen.
When he was a part of the Winter Sports Club, the hill didn’t have the magic carpet, forcing riders to hike up the steepest part of the slope as well.
“We used to have to walk right up the steep of the hill the whole way, then they finally put in the magic carpet and that helped out a lot. I don’t know how many steps are up there,” Ward said.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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