Summertime slopes

Steamboat's plastic-covered ski jump opens for season

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— The green plastic is a little slicker -- and a little more painful -- than snow, but Brett Denney doesn't care.

It's June, and the Steam-

boat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete is ski jumping on Howelsen Hill.

"At the club, more than anything, we talked about (a year-round ski jump) all the time," Denney said Friday after taking Steamboat's first ski jump of the summer.

Todd Wilson, Nordic program director with the SSWSC, helped oversee the installation and construction of the year-round ski jump.

On Friday, Wilson was driving up and down Howelsen Hill tinkering with sprinkler heads and nodding approvingly.

Winter Sports Club athletes took several jumps in October 2005, but Friday's summer jumps signaled the beginning of a new era at Howelsen Hill, the venue dear to Steamboat's Olympic heritage.

"It's always been a dream of (Wilson's) and everyone in the club." Denney said about ski jumping year-round.

The porcelain track and the plastic-coated landing area will enable ski jumpers to train in spring, summer and fall. Water is periodically used to keep the landing area wet, and water is constantly flowing on the track leading up to the take off, making for consistent training conditions.

"Ski jumping is a year-round sport," said Alissa Johnson, a ski jumper from Park City, Utah. "You do most of your training during the summer. Most of your competitions are during the winter."

Wilson was proud that after years of driving to Park City to train on its plastic jumps, Steamboat's jumpers were hosting Utah's athletes for a weekend of summer training.

Appropriately enough, two-time Olympian Clint Jones, Steamboat's own jumper, was on hand for Friday's training rounds.

In a fluorescent orange suit, Jones sailed off the K-68 jump, landing with a thud on the plastic before coming to a stop on a soft, grassy area.

Immediately, Jones stripped off his suit to cool off and begin the hike from the Howelsen Hill base to the peak of the jump.

He wasn't alone.

"The walk is definitely going to get me in better shape," Johnson said.

Call it dry-land training or call it earning your jumps, but each ski jumper at Howelsen Hill on Friday was more than willing to hike to jump.

"I think six jumps is the max," Denney said.

Throughout the country, Wilson said, ski jumps close in the fall to be prepared for winter, forcing athletes to take as long as a six-week break from training.

Steamboat's new jump can be prepped in 24 hours, so Park City's athletes -- and others in the U.S. -- may frequent Steamboat in the coming months as the SSWSC tries to lengthen the training season.

"Steamboat's been pushing the envelope to get as close to snow as possible," Wilson said.

The ski jump training will continue today and Sunday, beginning at about 9 a.m.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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