Local gelande jumper heads to nationals

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— Gelande ski jumping is an ever-evolving sport, Steamboat Springs jumper Pat Arnone explained. He said it has drastically changed in the 14 years he has spent flying off jumps. It changes from year to year as ski areas embrace or shun the sport and even from day to day as competitors mold takeoffs to suit their sensibilities.

A few things haven't changed, however, and that's what has the 41-year-old Steamboat resident traveling today for the North American Gelande Ski and Telemark Jumping Championships at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah.

"It's still all about how far you can fly," Arnone said. "It's always fun to fly through the air."

Arnone is a veteran of the sport, its national championship event and the Snowbird jump, in particular. He said he's hoping that experience can help him in one of the sport's most sacred places.

"It's always exciting for us to go back to the birthplace of gelande," he said. "That's where it started back in the '60s, and there's a lot of energy around it. This year, as is normal, they've gotten a ton of snow, which will help them shape the hill. Every year we go, it gets better and better."

Arnone has been getting better himself. He's preparing to wrap up what has been a successful winter. Arnone finished high in events throughout the season, then capped it all off late last month by claiming the championship at an event at Durango Mountain Resort on the Goliath gelande jump.

Arnone leaped a new hill record of 262 feet, 11 feet farther than his nearest competitor.

The closing of Howelsen Hill on March 30 combined with a heavy workload has limited Arnone's ability to practice before the weekend. He still is brimming with confidence, however.

"I've had a pretty good season - got third twice and won in Durango - so I'm feeling pretty good about my jumping," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting in there and doing battle with my friends."

Competitors will be able to take practice runs off the jump today, then they will compete Saturday to qualify for Sunday's finals. This year's championships will be slightly different becasuse competitors will get only four jumps a day rather than the six they've had in previous years. The top-10 finishers will split a $6,000 purse.

Arnone said he doesn't necessarily need to claim a share of the prize to make the weekend a success. If he achieves his goal - four solid jumps in each round - the rest will take care of itself.

"Right now, for me, a success is to jump well," he said. "When I jump well, I'm right there with the best guys. Last year, I walked away in fifth place, and I was happy as I could be because I jumped really well."

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