The summer advantage: How SSWSC freestyle and freeski athletes continue training in the offseason

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club moguls skier Xander Tater-Brown takes flight during summer practice on the water ramps at Bald Eagle Ski Lake. The ramps are used to keep Winter Sports Club athletes in shape and prepared for the winter competition season.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

When it comes to summer training, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club freestyle and freeski athletes have a major advantage over the rest of Colorado. 

It may go unnoticed but nestled just west of U.S. Highway 40 on the southside of town is Bald Eagle Ski Lake, home to the state’s only water ramp facility.

Local skiers and snowboarders take to the water ramps every summer to practice their aerial maneuvers by launching off the ramp and landing safely in the lake. It is a way to keep repetitions high in the months that would otherwise make it difficult.

Jackson True, an 18-year-old moguls skier originally from Summit County, moved to Steamboat in the spring. He had been to the water ramps before but said coming out multiple times per week all summer long has been a game-changer for his progress as an athlete.

“When I was on Summit, we would only come for five or six weekends out of the summer and wouldn’t get nearly as many reps as I do on this team,” True said. “It is a great thing to have the ramps here and coming out every week and getting a bunch of jumps in the morning. Getting those repetitions is super nice to bring it onto snow.”

The ramps have existed for more than two decades thanks to property owner Ed MacArthur, whose son was in the SSWSC moguls program at the start of the century. MacArthur owns Native Excavating and used his expertise to construct the water ramps for SSWSC athletes. He continues to let them train on his property today.

“We’ve been able to use this land, and I think this is the 23rd summer so it’s a big deal,” SSWSC Freestyle Program Director Ann Battelle said. “This is the only water ramping facility in the state, so we do get teams from Vail, Winter Park, Summit and some kids are coming from Montana this weekend.”

Battelle said it is incredible to watch the progression of a young athlete going from a never-ever to doing flips off the ramps. It may sound easy enough, but there is a specific process for getting athletes to safely learn the intricacies of their sport.

Beginners will start on mats and wedges to work on rolls and body tension related workouts. Battelle described it as “gymnastics before you take it to the trampolines.” Athletes will learn what a tuck is, how it feels and what happens when you do one.

After mastering the gymnastics side of things, athletes are promoted to the trampolines where they have a chance to learn the acrobatics part of their sport. It is not plausible to start a new trick on the water ramps right away, so athletes use the trampolines to learn the takeoff and rotations before taking it to the next level.

Once athletes feel confident and comfortable, they hop on the ramp and slide down the wet plastic surface before being launched into Bald Eagle Lake. Battelle estimates her moguls athletes do over 500 jumps per summer.

According to SSWSC Freeskiing Director Andy Michnay, there is nothing better than having younger athletes watch the U17 or U19 groups train because it sets a standard for the youngsters and makes them strive for more. 

The club even pulls older athletes to help provide guidance and instruction to the newer skiers and snowboarders. 

“There are older athletes here that are working for our intro trampoline classes and intro to water ramps,” Michnay said. “Some of the older athletes that are really experienced are giving back and helping out the next wave coming in and passing on their knowledge. It’s really great to see.”

On Thursday, U17 and U19 moguls skiers with the SSWSC closed the summer session season at the water ramps and will get a short break that includes a trip to Australia for training before getting back on the ramps for fall sessions in September and October. 

Athletes tend to build their strength up in the summer months and look to maintain that through the winter. U17 moguls skier Mia Satkiewicz said the water ramps give her the perfect opportunity to fail and learn from her mistakes in a noncompetitive environment. 

She has been working on corks this summer, and though she has yet to master the trick, she has seen steady improvement. This winter, you may find her pulling them off in competitive runs. 

“One of the main things coaches always say is to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Satkiewicz said. “I think the ramps really help with that because it is low risk and you can do things out of your comfort zone without hurting yourself or really getting taken out for the season. That is why the ramps are so important.”

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