Michael Rogers flies off the K68 jump Friday at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. Rogers ski jumped for the first time Thursday and quickly progressed up from the smallest jumps at the complex.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Michael Rogers flies off the K68 jump Friday at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. Rogers ski jumped for the first time Thursday and quickly progressed up from the smallest jumps at the complex.

Steamboat's Howelsen Hill jumps offer sweet rush

Jumps at downtown Steamboat Springs ski area allow 1st-timers chance to fly

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Austin Watts leaps from the K68 jump at Howelsen Hill. Watts said he started jumping in Steamboat Springs 18 months ago and quickly learned to love it. “My first time, I thought I was going to land on Fifth Street,” he said.

Here’s your chance

The Howelsen Hill ski jumps are open to the public at 6 p.m. Wednesdays. The cost to participate is $20, including a lift ticket. There aren’t formal lessons, but veterans are always on hand and are eager to help and expand their sport.

— Ask the experienced ski jumpers of Steamboat Springs about their thoughts the first time they took flight, and you’re not likely to get much of a response.

“I really don’t remember,” said Todd Wilson, an Olympian and now the Nordic director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Steamboat’s Johnny Spillane has flown from more ski jumps than he can count, riding the sport to three Nordic combined silver medals at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

He doesn’t remember his first time, either.

“I remember the first time I went off the bigger hills,” he said. “I don’t remember for the smaller hills, though. I jumped the big hill for the first time when I was either 13 or 14 and the smaller ones when I was maybe 8, but I don’t remember it.”

I do.

The first time I went off a ski jump was Thursday night under the lights at Howelsen Hill, training ground for Olympians and, for one night, a scared sports reporter.

Just point

I prepared for Thursday’s adventure carefully. Rather, I over-prepared carefully, wearing two — yes, two — sets of base layer garments.

I figured best-case scenario, I could use the extra padding, and worst case, if I were to die sprawled out across the landing area beneath Howelsen’s famous jumps, I’d die warm.

I unloaded everything I considered breakable — pens, my cell phone, camera equipment and for some reason a notebook — before I lined up at the top and tried to remember what little advice I’d been given.

“When you go down the end run, you have to go straight,” experienced Gelande jumper Pat Arnone warned as we surveyed the hills before the jumping. “Keep your legs straight in the air, and you more than likely won’t crash.”

More than likely?

I tried to do as he said. I pointed my skis down the smallest of the six jumps at the complex and resisted the temptation to snow plow or even stop. I hit the end of the ramp and flew.

Easy to learn

Thursday’s jumping was related to the Winter Carnival, and I was joined in my wide-eyed ignorance by several other rookies.

Michael Rogers, Paul Rogers and Ollie Nam spent the past three weeks skiing in Steamboat while on vacation from Australia. The friends, members of the Melbourne University Ski Club, were talked into trying ski jumping and started out Thursday night as apprehensive as I was.

“When we were walking up, we were saying, ‘Oh, no, we’re going to stack. We’re going to get hurt,’” Michael Rogers said.

They flew down the smallest jump first and quickly graduated to the larger hills.

“The speed is the scariest thing,” Nam said. “I thought it would be more of a jump, but it was big and flat. I was surprised how not scary it was.”

Like so many before them, they were enamored, running lap after lap at the Howelsen complex and jumping until frozen officials finally declared the day done.

That fast progression isn’t rare, Arnone said.

“First time I jumped at Howelsen, I took one ride on the (K25) and said, ‘That’s silly,’” Arnone said. “I took two jumps off the 38 and went right up to the (K68). By the end of that season, I had jumped the big hill.”

What a rush

Winter Sports Club Exec­utive Director Rick DeVos manned the announcer’s booth Thursday, and someone had clued him in to the fact that I was taking my first-ever jump.

He bellowed into the microphone, cheering me on as I flew down the run, but the wind was loud, and I heard only pieces.

I flew — not far at all on my first go, but through the air nonetheless.

It was just as they all had described. It’s a strange sensation when you fly over the lip. It really looks like you’re jumping into nothing. Thanks to the curve masterfully built into the jump, not even Todd Lodwick ever gets too high off the ground.

You can’t see any of that when you’re the one in the air, however.

One moment, I was screaming down the run, worried I was going too fast. Then another moment I hit the end, and the next, my skis were gently coming back into contact with the snow.

Who’d have thought ski jumping qualifies as “easier than it looks,” but after just one run, I was convinced: Ski jumping is easier than it looks.

I jumped three more times. I went off the K18 hill again, this time shooting my legs down as I hit the lip to get more distance.

I also tried the K25 hill twice.

If I’d had a few more jumps, I’d have done the K38 hill.

The step-ups seemed insignificant because the series of sensations was the same: fear, speed, fear, air, whoa!, ground, speed, grin.

It was awesome.

Ready for more

I’m far from the only ski jumper who’s skidded to a

stop at the bottom of a jump newly inspired.

“It’s a lot different than what people might expect,” Spillane said. “It’s a great sport. If you can get over the initial fear of doing it for the first time, you will appreciate it for what it is.

“Especially on the big hills, it’s as close as you can get to flying. That’s why it’s still fun.”

The band of Australian beginners closed out the day jumping the K38, but they already were back Friday morning. They’d entered an amateur competition associated with the Winter Carnival and were soaring from the K68 jump in preparation.

I couldn’t make any such commitment — such is the life of a sports reporter Friday nights — but my emotions were the same.

I ski jumped, I flew through the air and landed safely, and as soon as I was finished, all I wanted to know was when I could do it again.

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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