Skiers catch air in gelande jump


— In the literal sense, gelandesprung happens all over the Steamboat Ski Area on any given day in February. But you haven't really seen gelandesprung spring until you've witnessed the annual competition on Howelsen Hill during Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival.

The literal translation of the Austrian term "gelandesprung" means terrain jump. So, in theory, every time a skier pops four feet of air off the cat track on Burgess Creek lift line, he or she has engaged in gelandesprung. At Winter Carnival, however, gelandesprung distances are measured in hundreds of feet try flying 336 feet through the air on alpine skis.

Skiers flying off the big jumps at Howelsen Hill have been a part of Winter Carnival since almost the beginning (the first Winter Carnival wasn't held at Howelsen, but at Woodchuck Hill instead).

Hot-shot alpine skiers experimented by launching themselves off the ski jumps for many years, but it wasn't until 1974 that formal gelande competitions were first held here.

The traditional way of launching from the Howelsen ski jumps is on nordic equipment, which leaves the heels free of the bindings and allows the skier to lean radically forward. Gelande jumpers can only hinge at the waist because their heels are fixed to the skis.

Longtime local gelande jumper Tim Magill said gelande jumpers take a different approach to ski jumping than their nordic counterparts.

"They float on the air and we kind of zing through it," Magill said.

The large surface area of their skis combined with their ability to lean far forward, make nordic ski jumpers more aerodynamic. Their skis and bodies actually form a sort of airfoil similar to an airplane wing.

Gelande jumpers must depend on speed to get into the right zone at takeoff. Nordic jumpers are often required by meet officials to start into the inrun from a lower position on the hill in order to compress the field of jumpers into a competitive range of distances. Gelande jumpers, however, always start from the highest possible position (called the attic) to increase their speed on takeoff. Magill said the typical gelande jumper is traveling about 60 mph, or 102 kilometers per hour, on takeoff, while nordic jumpers are close to 90 kilometers per hour.

Organized gelande competitions are a recent development here in historical terms.

Local ski historian Sureva Towler reported in her book "The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs" that freestyle impresario Tom LeRoi, in town for Winter Carnival, built a gelande takeoff on the site of the present 50-meter ski jump.

The event was organized by Pete Wither, according to Towler, with Bill Bowes and Keith Kulby the top two competitors, and Kulby winning in a jump-off.

Visiting skiers from Crested Butte organized a gelande contest the following year, when locals David Wren, Brent Romick and Lance Romick took part.

Emboldened by a third place on the 50-meter at Jackson Hole in 1976, Wren became the first Steamboat skier to compete in a World Championship in Durango.

Wren told people that the existing record of 229 feet could be toppled at Howelsen, and in 1977, Steamboat's Bart Lockhart proved it. He broke the old record by 15 feet.

The first World Championship at Howelsen was held in 1979, and although he placed second in competition, Wren set the world distance record at 249 feet on his qualifying jump. Steamboat locals Paul Bakke, Doug Kinney and Magill placed in the top 10 that year. Lockhart, a three-time world champ, took the competition in 1981, soaring 272 feet off the 90-meter jump. Four years later, Magill took the world title on the same hill.


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