Ski flier sets world record

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A crowd watched in awe Sunday afternoon as Rolf Wilson flew on skies for what seemed like forever, then hung on for a second more, beating the world record that he set a year ago.

Wilson soared 366 feet off the big jump at Howelsen Hill on Alpine skies as part of the Winter Carnival's Alpine Ski Flying Championship. Last year, he set the world record for Ski Flying, or Gelande jumping, with a 359-foot jump in the Steamboat Springs event.

"Ladies and gentlemen -- you just witnessed a world record," the announcer shouted after Wilson hit the snow. The crowd cheered and rang their cowbells.

Wilson, 26, has been a Gelande jumper for nine years, but he still gets a rush of excitement with every jump, he said after the event.

"What an amazing feeling it is to be that high up in the air," Wilson said.

For those who have never experienced Gelande jumping, Wilson said to "imagine yourself going over the top of a roller coaster."

That same feeling in your gut, the loss of gravity, the excitement -- "that's what it's like," Wilson said.

Fifteen jumpers participated in the Ski Flying Championships on Sunday. Gelande jumping is similar to Nordic ski jumping, except that the Gelande jumpers use Alpine skis and boots.

Conditions were good Sunday for record-setting jumps, Wilson said. A nice wind was blowing uphill, helping the fliers stay in the air longer. Snow was good for fast speeds, and many jumpers had long jumps.

Wilson called the jumping hill in Steamboat "amazing," and said he was grateful to everyone who helped make the event possible.

Wilson was introduced to the sport in 1996 by his older brother Brent Wilson, who finished second in Sunday's event. His brother Erik Wilson finished fourth. All are from Montana.

Rolf Wilson said he plans to Gelande jump as long as his legs -- and his wife, Ida -- can take it. He said his wife is very supportive of his jumping, though Ida Wilson, who was there for her husband's record-breaking jump Sunday, admitted that watching her husband jump makes her nervous. On Sunday, she said her stomach was in knots, and she had trouble videotaping him because it was hard to keep the camera steady.

Marsh Gooding, 19, of Steamboat Springs, is a ski racer who Gelande jumps when he can. He grew up watching the sport and tried it three years ago. He finished sixth on Sunday.

After he takes a Gelande jump, the thrill stays with him for days.

"My friends could tell you it's all I really talk about for a couple of weeks after this," Gooding said. "There's not really anything like flying."

Steamboat Springs resident Pat Arnone, who has organized the event for the past five years, finished third and also made a personal-best jump -- 351 feet. He said he was impressed by Steamboat's support of the professional event and the Amateur Alpine Ski Flying event on the K68 jump on Friday. That event was new to the Winter Carnival this year.

"It doesn't matter how far you go, as long as you're having fun," Arnone said.

Irene Nelson has watched the jumping during the years and holds the jumps at Howelsen close to her heart.

"Everything wonderful about this town is in this area here," she said, standing at the base of the jumps Sunday.

She said that she has enjoyed seeing children carry on family traditions of ski flying, and that it's special that top competitors make a name for themselves on the jumps.

"It's so nice having the world record on this little hill," Nelson said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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