Before throwing their best halfpipe tricks on snow, U.S. Olympic snowboard hopefuls are getting them down on trampolines and skateboards at the nation's foremost extreme sports camps.
Camp Woodward in central Pennsylvania offers instruction in gymnastics, skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX freestyle biking. Members of both the men's and women's U.S. Snowboard teams made their annual trip to the alternative sports haven this past week before heading for Oregon's Mt. Hood.
Training for 2002 Winter Games was never such a blast.
"It's hard not to have fun out here," said snowboarder Rob Kingwill, of Jackson, Wyo. "It's a cool place."
Gymnastics, especially the flipping and twisting in a harness on a trampoline, helps freestyle riders develop proper mechanics "so when we get on a snowboard, it's no problem," said Park City native Ricky Bower.
Kingwill says the trampoline helps with body positioning, knowing where to put his arms and legs to pull off a McTwist or Crippler. And it's a lot easier on the body than trying aerials or spins over and over in an icy halfpipe.
While workouts in the gym are regimented — "they really wear us out," Bower says — skating allows snowboarders to do what they do best: cut loose. "They give us free reign of the place," he said.
Rolling on hardwood vert ramps and halfpipes gives them a chance to work on balance and style. One of the better skaters on the U.S. team, Bower's maneuvers on snow are reminiscent of his skateboarding roots. Kingwill, on the other hand, backs off a little when he gets on wheels.
"It's kind of high risk for me. My first goal is to get to the Olympics in snowboarding, not skateboarding," said Kingwill, who just missed making the 1998 Nagano Games.
Kingwill and Bower, the 1999 world champion, will be among the top 10 to 15 American halfpipe riders that have legitimate shots at competing in Salt Lake City next February.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association will hold five Grand Prix meets in November, December and January. The four competitors with the best two results will earn spots on the team. Consistency means less in that format than a couple of great rides. Bower figures it will take a win and a top three finish to make it.
"It's kind of a different way to do it," he said. "I don't quite understand."
Meantime, Bower and his mates will continue to push the limits of snowboarding while having a ball at summer camp.
Snowboarding has advanced "leaps and bounds" since the last Olympics, Kingwill said. Judges are looking for more speed and bigger tricks. And he can't wait to try them in snow-covered Olympic halfpipe. "It's going to be really cool," he said.