Stuck on a feeling

Gelande jumpers enjoy thrill of soaring through air

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— Back in 1976, local resident Tim Magill first climbed to the top of a ski jump, strapped a pair of Alpine skis to his feet and dared to defy gravity.

Some things never seem to change.

That was 27 years ago, and while Magill admits he isn't as young as he used to be, he still enjoys making the climb and testing the laws of nature on a pair of long Alpine boards.

"I get a little more nervous about it these days," the 44-year-old jumper said. "But there is nothing that matches the feeling that comes from gelande jumping."

The veteran jumper will be one of more than 20 athletes who will visit Howelsen Hill this weekend as part of the annual Alpine ski-flying championships -- one of four scheduled stops on the 2003 Pro Gelande Tour.

Jumping will begin Friday with training from 9 a.m. until noon. There will also be another session from 1 to 3 p.m.

On Saturday, the jumpers will take part in a qualifying round and the event finals will take place on Sunday. Both rounds will begin at 1 p.m.

The top Alpine jumpers in the country will be in town searching for the thrill that comes from launching off the K112 jump. The jumpers will reach speeds of 64 mph before launching off the jumps -- which have been extended some 6 feet to accommodate the Alpine jumpers' flight -- then soar more than the length of a football field before landing at the bottom of the hill.

"You can't stop me," local jumper Pat Arnone said when asked if he was planning on competing this weekend. "We are all speed freaks and adrenaline junkies."

Arnone first started jumping nine years ago. A former Alpine racer, Arnone turned to gelande jumping because he thought it would be fun.

It didn't take long for him to decide his first impressions were right on target.

"I had heard about it, but never really tried it until I got to Steamboat," Arnone said. "Now I can't get enough."

Arnone is one of the local favorites hoping to hold his own against Rolph, Brent and Eric Wilson -- three brothers from Montana who have dominated the sport the past few years.

"I'm one of a few jumpers who are hoping to break up the Wilson brothers' show this weekend," Arnone said.

To do that Arnone will have to rely on distance, since there are no judges in this competition. Magill said the jumpers with the best style are going to be rewarded in feet -- not points. The winner of Sunday afternoon's pro event will be the guy who can defy the law of gravity long enough to record the longest jump. That jumper will get 25 percent of the $3,000 prize for his efforts. The top-10 places will receive a cash award and all of them are expected to get prizes from a number of local merchants who are supporting the event.

Magill said he is hoping one of the jumpers will also be able to beat the world record of 347 feet, which was set in Steamboat by Rolph Wilson in 2000.

"This is one of the biggest hills on the Pro Gelande Tour," Magill said. "If somebody is going to beat the record this year, it will be here in Steamboat."

Arnone is also hoping the mark will fall this year, but said it will depend a lot on the weather. He is hoping for cooler temperatures and clear skies.

While gelande jumping is similar to its Nordic cousin, Magill said they are not identical

Magill said the in-run speed is a lot faster in gelande (between 60 and 65 mph) and the ski bindings hold the jumpers' entire foot to the ski, not just the toes.

He also said Nordic jumpers use their skis to stay on top of the air, but gelande jumpers depend on velocity to give them enough punch off the jumps to make it down the hill.

Despite the differences, Magill said the thrill and sensation of weightlessness in the two sports is almost identical.

That's the feeling the athletes who visit Steamboat this weekend will be chasing as they soar through the thin mountain air above the Howelsen Hill ski area.

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