Aerials or Aerial Skiing is one of five Freestyle Skiing disciplines along with Halfpipe, Moguls/Dual Moguls, Ski Cross and Slopestyle. The US governing body is the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.
Aerialists ski down a 20-25 degree in-run at 45 m.p.h. and off of a 14 ft. tall kicker (jump) that is 70 degrees at the top and looks like a quarter-pipe. The kicker launches us up to 60 feet in the air where we perform triple back flips with up to five twists and quad back flips with up to four twists before landing on a 37 +/- degree chopped snow landing hill. We are scored 20% on takeoff, 50% on form and 30% on landing. A degree of difficulty (DD) is then factored in for a total score.
Snow aerial sites are usually built on a dirt foundation consisting of an in-run, a flat area called the table and a landing hill. The spot where the table meets the landing hill is called the knoll. After the dirt foundation is covered with snow, jumps called kickers are built on the table and usually made entirely of snow. Wide landscaping rakes and levels are used to level and smooth-out the flat area before the jumps and the transition to the in-run.
Kickers are built by blowing snow into wooden forms that are up to 17ft. tall. If the snow is dry, precise amounts of water are mixed in during the blowing process to make the kickers hard enough to ski off but not icy. After hardening, the forms are removed and the kickers are cut to the proper height (up to 14-feet or 4.3-meters tall), taking into account the amount that they are likely to shrink that week. The takeoff point is then determined by measuring it’s horizontal distance from the knoll. Then specific angles are marked on the side of the kicker (usually in 2ft. increments) starting at the takeoff point and ending at the table. Using the marks on the side of the kicker as a guide, a skilled “shaper” then cuts the curve into the kicker by shaving off multiple layers of snow using a razor sharp shovel or other shaping devices including chain saws, hand saws and grizzlies (a tool used in Quebec for removing ice).
Once the rough shape is established, the kickers usually need to be “faced” because the snow is not firm enough to last through a competition week. “Facing” begins by cutting a trench in the face of the jump in the area that will be skied on. The trench is then filled in and firmly packed with a precise mix of water and snow. The rough shape on each side of the trench is used as a guide to cut the final shape.
The landing hill and knoll are chopped several times before jumping starts. Hill Choppers begins at least ten meters down from the estimated landing point and gradually work up the hill to form a wall of un-chopped snow almost a meter tall. The most efficient way to chop is to only take off an inch or two of the wall at a time, maintaining the walls height until reaching the knoll, as apposed to cutting off large chunks of the wall that must be chopped up later. Cutting off large chunks also makes it difficult to ensure that the hill is chopped at least 3/4 of a meter deep in all areas. Flat-end shovels are much easier to use than pointed spade shovels because the pointed shovels are pushed to one side or the other rather than straight down through the snow. Shovels should be sharpened to make the job easier but only on the top side of the face. The bottom of the shovel must remain flat or it will be directed away from the wall of snow and towards the choppers shins rather than cutting through the wall. Hill choppers should stay in line with each other and move up the hill at the same pace to avoid skipping over parts of the hill. Some parts of the hill are much firmer than others so if one person is chopping faster than another, the faster person should widen their chopping area in order to assist the other and stay in line.
In a typical winter competition week, we travel on Monday. The day after travel-day is usually spent working on the site. We train for two to four days before competing. Training begins with determining our starting point by skiing down the in-run and stopping before hitting the jump. This is called a speed-check. A speed trap, handheld radar gun or both check our speed. We then move our start point higher or lower until the desired speed is attained before skiing off the jump. Single flips are done at around 40kph, most doubles around 54kph. The first triples of the day start out at around 62kph but can be as fast as 70kph, although not usually on purpose. We’re in the air for about 3 seconds on triples. Quad flips have been done on snow by only five people that I know of and in this order: Frank Bare, Lloyd Langlois, Eric Bergoust, Matt Chojnacki and Nicholas Fontaine. Top speeds were probably not much more than 70kph.
On competition day we are only allowed eight training jumps. We must do our two competition jumps during official training sometime during the week of the event. The second round is usually run in reverse order of the results from the first round so the best go last and both jumps count for a total score.
Summer Aerials (See Also: How To)
Water Ramps are used to perfect tricks before doing them on snow. We climb up to 150 stairs to the top of the in-run, ski down a plastic surface then off of the same size jumps used on snow and land in a swimming pool. A burst of air is sent up from the bottom of the pool just before landing to soften the impact. We wear a wet suit or a baggy suit with rubber seals on the wrists, ankles and neck called a dry suit, normal ski boots, a life vest and a helmet. Our skis are reinforced with about ½cm of fiberglass to keep them from breaking on impact.
We also train on trampolines, bungee assisted spotting harnesses, diving boards and other acrobatic or gymnastic training apparatuses.