Ashley caldwell and Jon Lillis 
Me and my teammate Jon Lillis
 Alli Lee
 My teammate Alli Lee with everyone building the kicker in the back
 Team USA building chopping the hill
 Team USA chopping the hill!
 Team USA building chopping the hill
 Team USA chopping the hill!

Although the calendar says we’re nearing winter, it sure doesn’t feel like it out in Park City, Utah.  With temperatures in the mid/high 40s every day, it’s a little difficult being a freestyle skier!  The U.S. national team and development team did start jumping the day before Thanksgiving!  We built the site and started doing single flips!

Building an aerials site is no easy task though.  It takes about three days of snow blowing, when there is no snow and several days of CAT work (those machines that groom the ski hills) before we can even start building the jumps.  The single kicker, the jump we do one flip off of, is about two meters high.  The double is 3.5 meters [3.5 meters = about 11.5 feet] high with 65 degrees of slope at the top.  We do two flips off this jump!  The biggest jump we have is called a triple kicker.  We do three flips off of this jump and it’s 4 meters high with 70 degrees of “kick” at the top. 

In order to make these jumps we put up wood forms and blow really wet snow into them.  We pack down the snow and let it set until it is hard enough to take down the forms and “shape” the jump.  In order to shape the jump we take these crazy instruments called ‘Grizzlies’ and smooth out the jump by hand to the correct degrees of pitch up the entire jump. The coaches do this and try and make sure that the jump is really smooth and has a steady curve.  Too much curve, or too little curve, is bad for jumping.  We have some pretty crazy specific specs for our hill construction.  Click on Aerials on this page to see a visual of our hill specs!  The landing hill also has to be a certain pitch, between 38-40 degrees.  We “chop” the landing every day to make sure it is soft, or soft enough.  Basically, all the athletes line up on the landing hill and use shovels to break up the snow.  It’s great bonding time and is a pretty good upper body workout! 

We always start off on the smallest jump, doing single flips.  We work our way up, but I’m pretty sure if you took a poll from all the athletes on the hill, they would all say that the first single jump is scarier than the first triples jumps of the year!  After you get rid of those first jump jitters, it’s all business, which really means ‘play’ in our sport! 

My first jumps of the season were especially nerve-racking.  The last time I jumped on snow, I had a pretty obscure crash and tore my ACL.  But I went up there with my sweet new blue POC helmet and did my speed check (a test run to see how fast you are going before you hit the jump, we try and get about 45 km [45 km = just about 28 mph] for singles) and went.  I figure that if you pretend to be confident it almost translates into actual confidence.  I landed my first jump and was super stoked.  We do about 10 jumps per session.  Since that first day I’ve done five days of singles.

Once you become confident on singles you move up to the double.  This is the medium sized jump that you do two flips off of.  We go between 55 and 58 km [58km = 36 mph] into these jumps.  The first double, like I said, was less scary than the single, contrary to popular belief.  I do a lay-tuck for my first doubles, which means a straight flip then a tucked flip.  Once I get up to harder tricks I don’t do this trick anymore, but it’s a good easy first trick, that I’ve been doing for four years.  Over the next week I’ll be increasing my degree of difficulty on the double. In another week, or so, we will build the triple and start training triple flips!

Wish me удачи (“ew da chi”) – good luck in Russian!

You can also follow my journey on Twitter @AshleySkis.