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Flipping Out: The Road to Radical Aerials

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Sports Spotlight

Did you watch the Winter X-Games this year? The annual action sports contest went down Jan. 27 to 30 in Aspen, Colo. By all accounts, the level of competition at Winter X this year was mind blowing. The top skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers performed some of the most technical and gravity-defying tricks that the world had yet seen. Several competitive milestones went down including Norwegian Torstein Horgmo's first ever triple cork (three off-axis flips) in the men’s snowboard big air competition.

Horgmo's insane triple cork was the exclamation point on a message that came across loud and clear while watching every event — the crossover between gymnastic ability and freestyle ski/board talent has never been greater. Throwing an off-axis double flip in a slopestyle or halfpipe run used to be a big deal, but this year dozens of athletes tossed not only one, but multiple double-flipping tricks in their winning runs. Aside from the flashy, baggy outfits, you could have mistaken the aerial progression on display at Winter X for an Olympic gymnastics competition.

Another exciting aspect of this new competitive standard was that the competitors stomping these groundbreaking tricks are younger than ever. There was a teenager standing on the podium of just about every Winter X event, including 15-year-old Torin Yater-Wallace who took silver in the ski superpipe and became the youngest Winter X medalist. What were you doing at age 15? At that age, I thought I was cool ollie-ing a skateboard down a flight of stairs; but hucking a double backflip going 50 mph off a 90-foot jump definitely never crossed my mind.

So how do they do it? How have the youth taken charge of the freestyle progression? To no surprise, the answer lies in the coaching and training facilities that these wunderkinds have at their disposal. These Winter X stars have grown up in a new era of immaculate terrain parks, water ramps, foam pits, and trampolines. Practicing day in day out on such amenities melts away fear, and the sky’s the limit if you master the skills, no pun intended.

Though we didn’t have any local freestyle skiers on the podium at Winter X this year, Tahoe is not lacking in standard-setting skiers who have benefited from long years of cutting-edge aerial training. Local pro freestyle skier Mike Wilson is a definitive example.

Known for his fearless aerial prowess, Wilson was the first to throw a double cork aerial in a freestyle skiing contest and has recently starred in a couple viral web videos that capture him tossing triple and quadruple backflips off of rope swings into Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River. Now 25, Wilson has lived in Tahoe for several years but went to high school at the Winter Sports School in Park City, Utah.

'Living in Park City I could train all day every day,' said Wilson. 'Even in the summer, we would hit the water ramps during the day and then jump on the trampolines in the gym at night.'

'I learned that flipping and spinning is flipping and spinning,' continued Wilson. 'Once you’ve landed a trick 50 times on a tramp it’s easy to transfer to skis because you realize where you are in the air.'

North Tahoe doesn’t have training facilities like those in Park City, so these days Wilson trains on a competition trampoline that he stores in his garage. The very youngest of our aspiring aerialists are in luck, though, as Truckee is home to My Playground, a toddler and youth gymnastics school located in the Pioneer Center. My Playground offers gymnastics classes for kids age 4 and up, focusing on the development of fine motor skills and self-confidence. The current My Playground classroom is packed with mini-tramps, balance beams, and foam mats, all of which are pint sized and perfect for young gymnasts. My Playground should be in a new building by spring, and will begin offering more advanced gymnastics classes for older youth. For more info on My Playground, visit

The lack of aerial ski training facilities in Tahoe has been recognized by one local resort. Boreal Mountain Resort on Donner Summit has recently installed a permanent training tool called a BagJump. The BagJump is a massive air bag that sits behind a terrain park jump and allows riders to practice tricks into a cushioned landing zone. Measuring 50-square-feet wide and nearly 8-feet thick, the BagJump literally swallows riders who launch over 50 feet into the air pillow. It’s not ideal to land straight on your head on the BagJump, but such a mistake is exponentially less dangerous than if you had tried the same maneuver on snow. The BagJump is open to the public five days a week and requires a special pass. You can find out more info on the BagJump at  

What’s that? You say you’re too old for learning flips and spins? Well, maybe so. But no doubt it’s entertaining to watch others take to the air, especially when they are your kids. The ESPN cameras always pan to the proud parents of the X-Games winners, so if you’re lucky and your kid’s practice pays off, you just might get some 'airtime' too.

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June 14, 2018