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Utah Olympic Park boasts summer airtime



There is Blackcomb, there is Mount Hood, and then there is the Utah Olympic Park aerials splash pool – the summer training ground for many of the world’s top freestyle skiers, including Shannon Bahrke, Scotty Bahrke, Nate Roberts, Jacqui Cooper, Kate Reed, Brian “Curdog” Currutt, Eric Bergoust, Matt Chojnacki, Emily Cook and Walter Wood.
    And maybe the best part – the public has access to the same water ramps as the champions.
    “You meet a lot of young kids who are super-stoked about the sport,” said Olympic moguls silver medalist Shannon Bahrke, who is often seen throwing tricks such as a back flip iron cross off the “single” ramp and into the 750,000-gallon pool.
THERE IS BLACKCOMB, there is Mount Hood, and then there is the Utah Olympic Park aerials splash pool – the summer training ground for many of the world’s top freestyle skiers, including Shannon Bahrke, Scotty Bahrke, Nate Roberts, Jacqui Cooper, Kate Reed, Brian “Curdog” Currutt, Eric Bergoust, Matt Chojnacki, Emily Cook and Walter Wood.
    And maybe the best part – the public has access to the same water ramps as the champions.
    “You meet a lot of young kids who are super-stoked about the sport,” said Olympic moguls silver medalist Shannon Bahrke, who is often seen throwing tricks such as a back flip iron cross off the “single” ramp and into the 750,000-gallon pool.
    The current 389-acre Utah Olympic Park, originally known as the Utah Winter Sports Park, was critical in the Salt Lake Bid Committee’s efforts to secure the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Construction of the facility began in 1991; the park, ski jump facilities and splash pool opened in 1993. The bobsled, skeleton and luge track opened in 1997.
    “It’s Disneyland for Olympic sports,” said Tristan Gale, Olympic gold medalist in skeleton, who works at the park. The public has access to practicing ski tricks in the splash pool, attempting ski jumping, taking a bobsled ride and browsing Rocky Mountain history at the Alf Engen Ski Museum, among other fun. “We are one of the places [in the world] that keeps the Olympic spirit alive,” Gale added.
    And the spirit is very much alive. Every Saturday during the summer, the Flying Aces take flight at noon. Flying squirrels, full twists, screaming seamen and back flips are among the tricks that the pros throw.
    Currutt, a former World Cup aerialist and a current coach with the U.S. team, said athletes such as the Bahrke siblings, Roberts and Reed enjoy performing because the show is like being in a contest.
    “You can really simulate a competition,” Currutt said.
    The crowd is cheering, and once the athletes commit, there is no stopping, Currutt described. They ski anywhere from 50 to 100 feet down a carpet-like ramp that is sprayed with water to remain slick. The ramp shoots athletes up a kicker where they fly from 20 to 70-plus feet in the air depending on the ramp. Unlike snow, once you start sliding, stopping is not an option.
    Four-time aerials World Cup champion Cooper leaves the snow in her Australia homeland to hit the hill in Park City during the summer.
    “It’s important for us to train like Northern Hemisphere athletes,” Cooper said. “It’s training you can’t get anywhere else.”
    For the aerials skiers, the ramp jumping correlates well with their sport. The aerials athletes say the surface is a bit faster, but after a few jumps back on snow, their summer training at the facility carries over perfectly.
    While the jumps are much different from what moguls skiers experience on snow, training at the pool helps with air awareness, Shannon Bahrke added.
    “For us, it’s about being in the air and being comfortable,” she said, “and overcoming fear in the air and learning how to get out of difficult situations.”
    Freeride coach Elana Chase of Aspen Valley Ski Club coaches kids at the park during the summers and said all skiers can benefit from training at the pool, regardless of their discipline.
    “Across the board,” Chase explained, “it helps with air awareness. The more you experiment in the air, the more you’re off the ground, the more comfortable you will be on the snow … and it translates whether the kids [or adults] can see it or not.”
    To get comfortable in the air before going off the ramps, the athletes play on the trampolines. Athletes will spend hours perfecting their moves.
    hase coaches Wood, 15, who is the youngest showman performing at the Flying Aces show. He warms up on the trampoline daily, as he regularly hits the biggest jump specifically built for aerials training. Nonetheless, Wood goes off “mongo,” which shoots him 70-plus feet in the air. As a freerider, Wood has to adjust his takeoff because the aerials ramp has more lift than a regular freeride kicker. He has to be patient before he makes a move, but then he can attempt just about any trick.
    “To have that much air time, you can do anything you want up there,” Wood said. “That’s what freeride is all about – to push the limits and try new things.”
    The facility at the water ramps offers an intricate system of air bubbles that helps cushion the athletes’ landing in the water. It’s definitely a more comfortable welcome than hard snowpack.
    “You basically don’t have the limitations and can experiment on whatever you want,” Wood said.
    The splash pool is open daily to the public for introduction classes from 1-4 p.m. through Axis Freeride, a nonprofit organization founded by modern freeskiing pioneer and Olympian Chris “Hatch” Haslock. Private lessons also are available.
    Olympians Kris “Fuzz” Feddersen and Trace Worthington produce Flying Aces every Saturday throughout the summer. The 30-minute show that features Currutt, the Bahrke siblings, Cooper and many others starts at noon.  
    The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    “It’s a great spot for anyone who wants to put on skis and come out and jump,” Currutt said.

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