Sports
the Gauntlet

Splish splash, skiing into a pool!

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In the minds of many, combining small children strapped to skis, a giant wooden ramp and a pool of water probably seems like a bad idea. To freestyle aerial skiers, however, this is the perfect training recipe for future star athletes.

The Alberta Freestyle Skiing Association and the Southern Alberta Freestyle Ski Club celebrated the opening of a new water ramp for aerial ski training at Canada Olympic Park with a demonstration of jumps by young athletes from the group Tue., Aug. 28. The event was also marked with the visit of Olympic aerial skiing bronze medalist Deidra Dionne. The Saskatchewanian-turned-Red Deer native was excited at the prospect of having another training facility in her discipline.

"This is similar to what I started out [training] on in Red Deer," said Dionne. "It's a great grassroots facility. Once you get to a high-performance level, you move on to a high-performance training centre. This is wonderful start for kids to get into the sport."

The facility itself--designed by SAFSC program director Dustin Wilson and completed in a mere two and a half weeks--consists of a large wooden ramp covered in a special irrigated plastic material that aids the athletes in gliding down the surface. The ramp feeds into the pool where a parent stands patiently with a buoy to throw out to the newly submerged skier. With their helmets duct-taped on and plastic bags in their ski boots, athletes get reeled in and prepare for another jump.

"The first jump of the day is usually the scariest, but it doesn't hurt at all," said 12-year-old Jackie Atkinson. "I'm wearing a life jacket to do this so you don't really sink too much and so is everyone else. You either have dry suits or wet suits as well."

Aerial skiers must qualify--practice hundreds of times to make everythng perfect--the jumps they perform on trampolines and on the water ramp before taking the tricks to the snow. This means countless hours of doing the same jumps over and over again into pools of water and in gymnastic facilities. Most of the athletes don't seem to mind, though.

"It's really just a lot of fun," said former national competitor Matt Hayworth.

Like many relatively new and innovative sports, freestyle skiing has struggled but has recently managed to gain respect in world of winter sports. Introduced to the Canadian scene in 1974, aerials made their Olympic debut as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. The addition of the new facility provides another outlet for safe training that is closer to athletes, exciting the community with newfound access to the sport.

"This [facility] gives children more exposure to yet another sport," said Dionne. "I think in this day and age, we need to get the kids off the couch to get out and be active. This is another opportunity in a different sport that someone can find their niche in and just come out and enjoy skiing in the summer."

COP will keep the ramp open into October to facilitate a smooth transition from water to snow.

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