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."