Though arguably the hardest part of aerials skiing sticking a landing on snow is still ahead of them, the young aerialists at the Aerials Tryout Camp at the Utah Olympic Park are working on their jumps this week.
Thanks to a partnership between FLY Freestyle and the U.S. Ski Team, several promising young gymnasts and other athletes between the ages of 13 and 17 hit the water ramps at the UOP to show off their skills.
Sharlee Holland, a former U.S. Freestyle Ski Team athletes and current head competition team coach for FLY Freestyle, said the teams reached out to anyone who might have what it takes to become a world-class aerialist.
"We did video submissions on a campaign called 'Create.it' and we also sent out letters to local gyms," she said. "We're just looking for acrobats who may have skied before or may not have skied before to try aerials."
Joe Davies, the "C" team aerials coach for the U.S. Ski Team, said talent in other sports can often translate into success on the aerials jumps.
"We're kind of identifying talent and really trying to assess people who have potential and are good at other sports who could be good at this one," he said.
The weeklong camp, which ends on Sunday, has featured a variety of different activities aimed at identifying the top athletes in the camp, as well as ensuring that the teens have a good time learning a new sport.
"It's a five-day camp we do three days of ramping, lots of trampolining and [Wednesday], we spent the day at the Center of Excellence and did strength testing," Holland said. "It's just a fun atmosphere as it is, but we've been doing a lot of group activities with them and team-building stuff. We did all the rides up here [at the UOP] and then went down and had a massive game of kickball during lunch to get the kids to get to know each other. Ramping in itself is exciting too, though."
Grace Slevin, one of the campers from Bozeman, Montana, said she was enjoying the low-key, exciting atmosphere of the Aerials Tryout Camp.
"We're just jumping and seeing how we like aerials," she said. "I like it a lot it's very fun."
Slevin isn't a stranger to the camp, having attended a couple years ago.
"Two years ago, the owner of my gymnastics center asked if I wanted to come down and I did," she said. "I didn't come last year, but I was asked to come again this year."
After hitting one of the jumps and successfully completing a front flip, Slevin paddled back to the edge of the pool, where she was one of her own biggest critics. Even though she doesn't know where aerials will lead her, she wants to perform each jump the best she can.
"I didn't get enough rotation," she said matter-of-factly. "Honestly, it's just for fun right now, but we'll see where it goes."
It could lead to a spot with FLY Freestyle or on the U.S. National Team, according to Holland and Davies.
"The athlete that shows the most commitment to the sport, the most interest and highest athletic ability, there's an opportunity for a scholarship," Holland said. "We're giving away one, maybe two, scholarships for the summer for training.
"Every year, we've had one, if not two, athletes stay in the program for the whole year and we've pushed athletes to the national team every single year."
Davies added that the Tryout Camp has led to many new skiers coming through his team.
"We've had a lot of success with this, developing gymnasts particularly," he said. "We have a young lady on our team, Morgan Northrop, a gymnast, who just picked up the sport three years ago."
Though a lot of the campers don't have skiing backgrounds, Davies said he's seen the potential for several good aerialists.
"I've been really impressed with how the non-skiers have picked up skiing," he said.
Because of the program's success over the last several years, Davies said he hopes the partnership between the U.S. Ski Team, FLY Freestyle and gyms across the West continues to flourish.
"We want it to keep growing," he said. "I'm certainly going to put a lot of effort into working with gyms and partnering with them."