Steamboat Springs Just imagine the feeling that comes from barreling down the ice- and slush-covered slopes of the Sitz/SeeMe ski run at breakneck speed.
Then imagine if, as you approached the halfway point, it seemed like somebody found the master switch for gravity and flipped it off for just an instant.
You would probably feel like the carpet had been pulled out from underneath your fast-running skis just as you reached the steepest pitch of the racecourse.
After hurling through space toward a landscape filled with condos, parked cars and hotels, gravity returns, yanking your body back to earth a few hundredths of a second before your stomach gets the message.
A field of 168 11- and 12-year-old skiers don't need to imagine that; they lived it Wednesday.
The ski racers, the Rocky Mountain and Central divisions' best, were at Mount Werner for super-G training as part of this week's Junior Olympic Championships.
"It's high risk, but that's why it is so much fun," Steamboat ski racer Taylor Coe said prior to his first training run. "The hardest part of the whole course is the knoll. You're flying when you hit it, you can't see the next gate and then you get thrown into the air," Coe said. "You have to factor in the conditions, how fast you are skiing and your next move all at the same time. That's why inspection is so important."
Coe was one of 17 Steamboat Springs' racers warming up at the top of Sitz, doing pushups and swinging their legs, waiting for their training runs.
The boys first competitive run will take place at 9 a.m. today. The girls are slated to start at 11:20 a.m.
Steamboat's Michael Lyon compared the feeling of launching over the knoll to driving a car along a rolling county road. Since Lyon will not be driving for a couple of years, he will have to pursue that feeling on the ski slopes, where there isn't a speed limit or a need for a learner's permit.
"It's like when your tummy gets all twisted," Lyon said. "That feeling you get on the first drop of a roller coaster -- that's it."
Steamboat Winter Sports Club coach Scott Wither, who has experienced more than his fair share of super-G events during his years with the U.S. Ski Team, said his skiers get the most excited about the chance to race a super-G
"This is their first real taste of speed," Wither said. "Before the first run they are normally pretty nervous and anxious, but when they get down to the finish line they realize that it's no big deal. There is a big difference from the start to the finish."
The coach admits that most of the racers in this week's championships are limited when it comes to super-G experience. The Steamboat skiers have trained six or seven days and competed three times in the event this winter.
Wither said the fact his skiers train on Sitz/SeeMe might be an advantage, but most of the young racers are still learning the basics of skiing at this speed.
"Your instincts will tell you to slow down before you hit the knoll," Wither said. "But when you know the course you have to fight that feeling."
The young skiers would be pushing speeds of 40 to 50 mph during training and competition, he said. All of the skiers were required to complete two training runs prior to today's competition for safety.
The super-G is the only speed event of the week. Skiers will not compete in a downhill, which can reach speeds between 60 to 75 mph, until they are at least 13 years old.
"This is the time when you can see skiers start drifting to either the speed or technical events," Wither said. " This is the only speed event for this age group. Most of these kids are still a year or two away from the downhill, so this is where they're introduced to speed."
In a pre-race pep talk Wednesday, Wither told his skiers to live on the edge as they made their way from the top of the Christie lift, down the long steep pitch that opens the super-G and then across a short flat before hitting the knoll, which is at the top of another steep section.
"We train this a lot," local racer Adam Parke said. "But you have to be ready for the drop-off."
That's where these young Junior Olympic skiers will no longer have to imagine what it's like to ski on the edge --they will know.