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TAKING FLIGHT IN THE SUMMER

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They're flying - daily - off the 90-meter jump. And before the calendar turns another page they'll be ski jumping into a pool of water - as planned.

Last week, the Utah Winter Sports Park opened, unofficially, to athletes for summer training. Park officials now hope spectators will follow.Members of the national jumping team were in town this week to begin training on the plastic-coated 90-meter jump that many contend is the most modern facility of its kind in the country. They will continue to train through the summer and fall.

"There's sort of an unwritten rule in ski jumping that if you're not at your peak by the time the snow falls, you might as well forget it. All training is done in the summer. A good jumper will get in more than 1,000 jumps before it snows. Winter is strictly for competition," he said.

The ski jumping complex officially opened its winter jumping in January. The summer facilities will officially open July 31.

Bower said jumpers showed up early to test the 90-meter jump . . . "And thought it was great. They were jumping better on the plastic than I've seen them jump in two years."

The jump is a mastery of plastics engineering. The landing consists of a layer of concrete, a layer of closed-cell foam pad and plastic matting placed over the foam like shingles on a roof.

"The mats are one yard wide and one and a half yards deep and have spaghetti-like strands that the jumpers land on. Occasionally we spray water on the mats to keep them slippery," Bower noted.

"Actually, the surface is much better and more consistent than snow. You can't turn, and you wouldn't want to. The one concern we had was jumpers going too fast and over-shooting the outrun. So far we haven't had anyone come close."

At the end of the outrun, skiers first encounter a patch of grass, then a pit of sawdust. The two offer enough resistance to stop a skier.

The track on the jump itself is made from what Bower called "ceramic knobs."

"They're like an icy track, only much more stable. Once you get into the track, though, you're committed. There's no stopping, no snowplowing, no going back," he added.

The only other place right now offering these updated jumping facilities is Calgary, Canada. Lake Placid, N.Y., has closed this summer to replace its old plastic with the newest materials.

Converting the 90-meter jump to summer use cost about $200,000.

A second part of the summer program is the freestyle jump. This consists of four separate jumps on the edge of a large swimming pool. The purpose is to offer freestyle aerialists a softer, safer landing as they practice their inverted maneuvers.

The jumps have been completed and the pool should be ready within a week. The plastic surface to these jumps is similar to the bristles on a brush.

"It was a surface designed for alpine skiing. Skiers can turn on this stuff. It's a lot harder surface and you don't want to fall. Usually, freestyle skiers don't fall on the inrun, but on the landing," said Bower.

The only other splash pool in the U.S. is in Lake Placid. Bower said Utah's is the "next generation pool."

"We learned a lot from the first one. For example, this pool is much larger. Also, there are four ramps instead of three. We also have one ramp we can take out and let recreational skiers try it. It would be like going off a three-meter board," he added.

Open this summer will be the 90-meter and the freestyle pool, and guests rides up the lift alongside the 90-meter jump. The park hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. The admission fee is $2 per person, or $5 per carload.