Utah's brilliant mid-summer sun shines down on us as we stand on wooden steps that climb to a ramp misted by water. The pool below us is a vivid, inviting blue and without thinking about it too hard, it looks like a typical summer scene. It is reminiscent of a waterpark except for one thing: We are sporting helmets, ski boots, and skis.
We're at Utah's Olympic Park—the site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Freestyle Ariel event—but it's late June, and wetsuit-clad skiers replace snow skiers, flashing down ramps on a slippery, wet synthetic material. As the skiers pick up speeds of 30 mph they hit jumps doing aerial tricks up to 60 feet above the ground. The jumpers are not seasoned pros, and many haven't even hit puberty yet (the youngest I watched doing aerials was only 11 years old). I study them off the big ramps as I stand at the top of the "mini," which is a 30-foot long and five-foot high introductory ramp for beginners. My arms are wrapped around my life vest and I'm feeling pretty apprehensive. The last time I felt like this was right before a friend and I jumped off a 40-foot bridge near Freeport, Maine, on a dare.
I came here for the Roxy Pop Drop, a Roxy-sponsored camp that helps girls of all ages learn air sense by practicing jumps and tricks first on the park trampolines, then on the water ramps. One of the goals is to get girls comfortable with jumping and being in the air on skis. Both of which make me very nervous.
During the winter, I love to ski powder and make my way down quiet back bowls and glades, but I don't feel comfortable getting air. Park jumps seem looming and insurmountable, and after a particularly messy and embarrassing wrestling match with a grind bar, I've avoided the terrain park like an obnoxious ex. But today I have to put that aside. I feel rather tall as a 20-year-old in a line of giggling girls is a couple feet shorter than me. Some of them have been doing this for several summers, and their excitement and enthusiasm sequels my anxiety.
In all honesty, I wasn't even planning to suit up the first day. The Roxy Pop Drop is a three-day camp and I planned on carefully observing the first day and then try jumping the second. Maybe. In fact, I was so prepared to attentively watch the other campers I (intentionally) forgot my suit. But without hesitation Olivia Arkeley, one of the water ramp coaches and a Junior Olympics Freestyle champ, grabbed a pair of her board shorts and said, "Here, just wear these under the wetsuit." I have to go off the jump today. That's what I came here for, right?
Shasha McLaughlin, a bubbly 13-year-old from Reno, Nevada, shoots me a toothy grin as she flips her blonde bob, puts on her helmet, and stomps into her skis. She slides down the ramp arms facing forward and successfully skis down, hits the jump, and lands in the water with a splash. This shouldn't be too bad, I think as I try to put out of my mind the painful, awkward times I've crash-landed off unexpected jumps.
I shuffle to the top of the ramp, looking out toward the mountains in the distance, some still capped with snow. "Keep your eyes up!" says freeskier Caroline Gleich, also a USSA Level II Freeride and Invert Aerials coach. I rush down, skis facing forward. My breakfast leaps around in my belly as I fly off the ramp and into the water. After the initial shock of being submerged into a pool with skis on my legs, I realize that I have to get out. I flail around like a wet 300-pound golden retriever toward the edge of the pool. "Nice work," Caroline says. She's wearing white aviators, a straw hat with a daisy on it, and is smiling. "Want to try the single?" she asks. Soon I'm at the top of the single, which is twice as high and 20 feet longer than the mini, and II'm ready to come to terms with my fears of going big. I charge down the ramp eyes up and arms out. My view is on the peaks in the background, full of rocks and ridges waiting to be explored come winter.
After several successful jumps, I've come to welcome the little leap in my belly when I go off a jump, and now I'm itching to spend some more time in the air. Even the terrain park seems a little less hostile.
To see more pictures from the Roxy Pop Drop,
To check out a Q&A with freeskier and coach Caroline Gleich,