Steamboat Springs Through a gate, down a dirt path and behind a pile of gravel and grass, the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team was training.
On old skis, beneath the sunshine, the men and women took turns flipping and twisting before landing -- smack! -- into the lake below.
"If you land correctly, it doesn't hurt at all," Hannah Kearney said.
The last time Steamboat Springs saw Kearney, she was blowing through the Voo Doo ski run bumps on her way to winning the U.S. Olympic Freestyle Trials in December.
On Wednesday, the 2005 World Champion and 2006 Olympian resumed her training at a mandatory camp held at Bald Eagle Lake east of Steamboat.
"This is what we do," Kearney said before hopping on a trampoline to practice twisting. "This sport has become something that has to be trained all year round."
Four months removed from the 2006 Winter Olympics, the U.S. Freestyle Team has a different look. Gone are familiar faces such as Steamboat resident Travis Mayer and Loveland's Jeremy Bloom.
In their place are relative newcomers David Digravio and Sho Kashima on the men's side and women such as Lowell Whiteman School graduate Emiko Torito and former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete Eliza Outtrim.
Kearney, 20, is still young, but she's a veteran on the team.
"They are so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," Kearney joked. "They are so excited about it."
Kearney usually trains in Lake Placid, N.Y., home of another water ramp. Park City, Utah, is the country's third water ramp site.
But moguls coach Don St. Pierre said Steamboat's secluded water ramp is unique.
"These jumps simulate more of a moguls jump than an aerials jump," he said Wednesday, sitting on the edge of the wooden platform where the kickers give way to water.
"The jumps are closer to water, and it can't be understated: This is a great place to be."
Kearney's trip to Steamboat was her first water ramp work during this offseason, so she wasn't trying anything too technical or new. She wanted to get a feel for the jumps and resume working toward a goal that seems far away.
"I do want to go to the next Olympics," the Norwich, Vt., resident said.
Between Steamboat on Wednesday and Vancouver in 2010, Kearney sees women's freestyle skiing advancing. It's difficult to take extended time
off for school or work -- or anything -- for fear of falling behind.
"We'll probably be adding rotation, like 720s and doing more grabs. -- like where the men are now," Kearney said.
She will start working on new jumps later. For now, she lifts weights and mountain bikes. A majority of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team will train in British Columbia, Canada, this summer before heading to a mandatory U.S. Freestyle Ski Team camp in Chile before the fall.
Then, the snow falls in the United States, and competitions begin. It won't be an Olympic year, but it will be important for the inexperienced skiers from the United States.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org