It is the rare and probably Canadian person who grew up near a luge track or a curling sheet. Though they become temporarily high profile when the Winter Olympics roll around, many winter sports are practiced only in very specific places by very specialized athletes. That makes fully appreciating the achievements that will be showcased at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, far more difficult than, say, understanding how exceptional Hussain Bolt is on the track. In order to gauge a competitor's mastery of a sport, it helps to have tried your hand at it.
But you can't just nip out to the local ski jump. If you want to try Winter Olympics sports, you'll have to either visit the few facilities around the country that offer tutorials for beginners or fly to Sochi and try to sneak into the Olympic Park. And we don't recommend the latter. Not surprisingly, it's probably easier to get to one of the following places to take part in the Winter Olympic sports you've never tried.
Ski jumping has been part of the Winter Olympics since the first games in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The goal is to stay airborne for the longest distance, which is measured from the take-off edge to the impact point on a steep slope below. If you're eager to catch some air of your own, head to Howelson Hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Almost 80 Olympians have hailed from this ski area, the largest natural ski jumping complex in North America, and home to seven progressively larger ski jumps.
Every Wednesday evening, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club opens the jumps to the public and a small group of coaches, led by alpine ski jumper Pat Arnone, provide instruction and guidance. Skiers should be at least intermediate level and comfortable on the slopes. Jumps are measured by average jump length rather than height, and the ones open to the public range from 10 meters to 127 meters. The smallest jumps are made for children, but Todd Wilson, director of ski jumping and nordic combined for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, says to start there anyway. "The biggest mistake newcomers make is thinking they can handle a larger jump than they're ready for," he says. "Start small and work your way up."
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