Snow, speed and a moment of hang time

I like to build sledding jumps. Even as a teenager, when I still took great delight in sailing through the air on all manner of gravity-propelled sliding devices, and would approach nearly any jump with little or no fear — even then I secretly thought that building jumps was as fun as using them.
My jump-building adventures of the winter of 2010-2011 started routinely and innocently enough. It was the last week of our Christmas vacation up in Maine. My parents and brothers and their families had left to return to their homes far away. Only my immediate family and one guest remained, so things were a bit quieter. “Boring,” my kids might have said, if we didn’t forbid the B-word in our house.
Fortunately, there was still plenty of snow from the previous weekend’s storm. Too much for pond hockey, but just enough for good sledding. So my two younger sons Mark and Peter and I grabbed our Mad River Rocket and a shovel and began the 10-minute trek across the lake to the small mountain on the other side.
The boys wanted to head up to one of the narrow, steep, and winding logging trails where we’d been sledding the two previous days. I vetoed the suggestion in part because it would add five minutes to the walk, and in part for reasons of safety. (The steep narrow trail was getting too fast, and there had already been one near encounter with a tree.)
Fortunately, a snowmobile had packed a track down the main road further down the hill. It was plenty steep enough for a good run, I argued to the boys, and wide enough to be a bit safer. Being the father, I prevailed.
The boys hadn’t taken more than a run or two each, and confirmed the possibility of decent speed, before we were working on a jump. We put it right in the middle of the trail so it was hard to avoid, gave it a good steep lip, and then put it to the test. The conditions were relatively fast, and soon Mark and Peter were getting about four feet of height and sailing 12 or 13 feet through the air.
Alert readers will notice that in that previous sentence I said “they.” and not “we.” A Mad River Rocket is designed to be ridden on the knees. Although I will occasionally take a ride or two on my 50-year-old knees, I do not go over 12 foot jumps on those knees. In fact, it hurt just watching my boys fly 12 feet and land on their strong teenage knees.
Thus about a decade ago I finally and fully embraced my secret teenage love and made the transition from daring jumper to careful jump architect. In that capacity, I grabbed the shovel again and built a landing ramp in the vicinity where they were consistently touching down.
After about an hour of work, we had a highly satisfactory design. On a good jump, they were able to navigate a nifty 180-degree mid-air turn, and still hit a nice gentle landing on the ramp.
(They also did a few 90-degree turns, which are not quite so nifty to land, but somewhat humorous to watch.)
As usually happens, just about the time we had it perfect, we had to go home for supper. However with all of that investment, we decided to return the next day. Not noticing that the mild air of the day before and the cold night had glazed the packed trail, Mark began his first run from the same starting point.
He hit the jump with considerably more speed, and sailed 19 feet in the air, landing flat ground six feet past the base of the landing ramp. It was an impressive jump, if a little painful.
We adjusted the starting point further down the slope and had a fun and relatively safe afternoon.
Alas, we had to abandon the jump the next day when we returned to Vermont. It was a couple weeks before we had enough snow again, but as soon as we did we started work on the sledding trail at our home hill — complete, of course, with a pair of jumps and landing ramps at the bottom. While Mark and Peter took turns on the Rocket, I’d stay by the jump with the shovel making necessary repairs and alterations.
That was my plan, anyway. And I did do a lot of the original shoveling and design. Except that Mark and Peter keep altering and adapting my jump — adding features, changing angles, moving snow from one place to another. In fact, within a few days it had ceased to be just a simple jump. It is so elaborate now, Mark now calls it a “terrain park.”
I was trying to convince him that he should just enjoy sledding, while I, the loving father, would do all the hard and painful work of building the jump.
“Actually, Dad,” he confided to me in a low and almost secret voice, “I actually like building the jumps as much as I like jumping.”
So much my private passion and purpose in life. I guess I’ll have to go back to flying. Anyone have any kneepads?

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