Simon ammann was a surprise hit in Salt Lake-Harry Potter's Swiss look-alike landed ski-jumping gold (twice) and then went bonkers on camera (twice). An incredible achievement, sure, but the kid's got nothing on gelà¤nde jumpers. Ammann was on 260-centimeter skis designed to fly.
Gelà¤nde resembles traditional ski jumping-except that the athletes click into their 215's, leap with fixed heels, and don't bother with coaches. The first competition was held in Alta, Utah, in 1963, and the original course had a ramp built from snow and a landing hill composed of old mine tailings. Montana Snowbowl held its first contest in 1974. For the next 15 years, the sport grew to a peak circuit of 13 flying bouts.
Today, only two competitions remain: at Snowbowl and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. "The sport keeps dying," says veteran hucker John "the Beast" Yobst. "But then we get these young kids coming in, and they push us old guys to keep it going." The old guys include "Leapin'" Lloyd Thurston, 44, affectionately called the Grandfather of Gelà¤nde. Thurston has sailed the Montana skies and won the Snowbowl championship 11 times since he began competing in 1975. At this year's Snowbowl gelande comp, he touched down at 141 feet. Other competitors included Rolf Wilson, who holds the national gelà¤nde record of 354 feet (won on Steamboat's big hill), and Rolf's brother, Brent, who won the 2001 event with a leap of 181.
The 2003 Snowbowl Cup Gelà¤nde Championships will be held February 22-23, 2003, at Montana Snowbowl in Missoula.