Michael DeGrandis flies off the jump at the water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake near Steamboat Springs. Coaches said the ramp allows the team priceless training opportunities.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Michael DeGrandis flies off the jump at the water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake near Steamboat Springs. Coaches said the ramp allows the team priceless training opportunities.

Water ramps get winter’s stars trained in Steamboat

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Learning how to jump off a water ramp

If you go

The ski ramp at Bald Eagle Lake is open to the public from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

A life jacket is a must. Old skis and ski boots are nice, as is a wet suit.

— The advice was all the same whether the person who offered it was 10 years old or 20, a coach who moved past his Olympic dreams or an athlete still making plans.

Skiing off the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake on the eastern edge of Steamboat Springs is a lot of things. It’s scary and fast, wet, of course, and cold. It, however, is not complicated.

“It’s a really weird feeling under your feet,” U.S. Freestyle Ski Team member Ryan Dyer said. “My best advice, just point them straight, right at the jump, and let them go.”

Simple enough, right?

I tightened my helmet, checked for the sixth time that my phone wasn’t in my pocket, double knotted my swim trunks and turned into the hill, praying to keep them straight.

A long way down

The top of the water ramp is a frightening place to be. The run, constantly made slick by a sprinkler system, is steep. It flattens out at the bottom, but only just enough to give jumpers a half-second to consider the massive kickers that await at the end.

Fear, at least temporarily, anyway, infects every beginner.

“It was really scary,” club skier Becky Miller said.

“The first couple of days it was scary,” Dyer added.

Skiers stand sideways on the slope awaiting their turn, then, when the water landing zone is clear, hop up, make a 90-degree turn and launch.

The ramp is carpeted with hard, skin-shredding plastic that, upon catching an edge, can send tumbling any skier who didn’t “keep them straight.”

“Oh yeah, I was scared,” said Erik Skinner, the Winter Sports Club’s freestyle director, considering his first run.

Skinner was introduced to the world of “ramping” when he was 16, launching from a ramp in Lake Placid, N.Y. That and a jump in Park City, Utah, are America’s two other jumps. Although he’s been a longtime coach in Steamboat, training dozens of skiers to advance from a tepid first jump to complicated flips and spins, he’s never hit the local ramp himself.

“My doctor and my wife say ‘no,’” he said.

Perfect.

A thrill

It was scary. There are five jumps built into the Bald Eagle Lake complex. The largest replicates the most gentle of the jumps used in the winter for aerials. Another simulates the kick a skier gets from one of the two jumps built into a competition moguls course.

Soaking up every word I could from club moguls coach Rob Day, I started on one considerably smaller.

I kept them straight, hopping from a sideways stance to start the slide, bulging my eyes as the jump approached, shouting loud as I hurtled through the air and gasping for breath in the lake’s cold waters.

I started a little higher the next time and higher yet a third time, building up to an attempt on the considerably larger mogul jump.

A priceless opportunity

That mogul jump, along with the whole complex, is entering its 10th summer, having offered Steamboat skiers a decade of training that competitors in other towns in the region can’t match.

The advantage of having one of the nation’s three water ramps is obvious.

“They can get so much better,” Skinner said. “The kids that don’t train in the summer don’t progress nearly as much. They struggle to get things to their feet, and they worry about crashing.

“This is imperative.”

The jumps are used for training goals big and small.

Simply the act of getting into the air in skis, feeling what it’s like and how it works, is important. Young skiers took advantage Friday afternoon, starting with simple runs down the ramp into the water and slowly building up to 360s and flips.

Older skiers, who reigned in the morning, focused on particular moves, trying to master tricks many will first put on snow later this summer on a trip to Australia and into competition in the coming winter.

“It’s great for figuring out the timing of a jump,” Dyer said. “Your whole trick is set in a split second, and this helps you throw that moment down and get comfortable with it.”

Spinning out

I perfected no tricks in about 10 runs down the ramp, but I certainly made progress.

I stopped gasping when I hit the water after my second jump, stopped screaming as I flew through the air after my third and stepped up to the mogul jump after my fourth.

The step-up looks big from the bottom of the ramp, and it is, the curled jump launching skiers up and out, instead of simply out like the smaller version.

After a few more runs Day suggested I pull off a 360 spin, and after a few failures — I struggled to even maintain the in-air focus to spin 180 — I turned in my water-logged ski boots, eager for another day on the ramp.

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

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