Freestyle skiers hit the water ramp

It's the kind of sport that puts lumps in the throats of spectators.

It’s the kind of sport that puts lumps in the throats of spectators. But long before aerial freestyle skiers are launching themselves three storeys high, performing more twists and turns than John Grisham novel, they practise in a much more forgiving environment.

Five members of the Yukon Freestyle Ski Association team were doing just that over the last week.

Travelling to Grande Prairie, Alberta, last week and returning Tuesday evening, the five Yukoners received some top-notch coaching on a “water ramp” at the Nitehawk Ski Area, the location of the ski and snowboard events at last March’s Arctic Winter Games.

“It was a really great experience, I learned a lot of things, I met some new people and I feel like a better skier from the experience,” said Yukon skier James Boyde. “It was super fun and I enjoyed myself.”

Removing the death-defying aspect of the sport, the Yukoners were skiing down a ramp, covered with bristles that replicate snow, launching off a ramp and landing in a pool. To soften the landing in the water – to mitigate the splat that comes with bad landings – air bubbles are released from the bottom of the pool to remove some denseness from the water.

Making the trip with Boyde were Anna Smith, Miguel Rodden, Anatole Tuzlak, and Sebastien Berthiaume, who inspired the trip by attending a training camp there last year.

“He had such a great experience there, that five of them went this year,” said ski association president Loree Stewart.

“You have to do them on water first, and then you get certified. Then you get certified on snow and then you can compete.

“In a competition, you couldn’t do a back flip if you’re not certified.”

Although none of the Yukoners earned certificates, they did come back knowing such tricks as cork 720s, D spins and rodeos.

“One of our athletes, Miguel, did a double back flip – Anatole did one as well,” said Boyde. “Anatole also did a kangaroo flip – two sideway flips, I guess you could say.”

Over their seven days practising at the water ramp, the Yukon skiers had three days with the head coach of the Northern Extreme Freestyle Ski Team, Chip Milner, from Alberta.

“He’s a really cool guy, and he had a lot of pointers for everyone,” said Boyde. “The private sessions with him, where it was just our team training with him, stand out to me because they were very productive for us.”

Surprisingly, the ramp in Grande Prairie was a better training facility than the one at the world famous resort Whistler Blackcomb, said Boyde, who has trained at both locations.

“This one is probably the best,” said Boyde. “In terms of my performance, and everyone else’s performance, our level of skill is much higher.”

At the Arctic Winter Games in March, Rodden won two silver medals in freestyle skiing and Smith won a bronze, two silver and a gold in the big air competition. Berthiaume, who was supposed to compete but was injured, still attended the Games as a course forerunner.

Smith went on to win a silver and bronze at the BC Freestyle Championship the following month.

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