Park City is preseason home base for skiers prepping for Beijing Olympics
PARK CITY, Utah — As the world watches the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in Beijing next February, there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate in Park City. For one, the opening ceremony will be held almost 20 years to the day since Park City welcomed the world for the 2002 Games.
The Olympic legacy in Park City is obvious and well-preserved all these years later. One of the most visible testaments to the Games is the Utah Olympic Park, which was home to the ski jumping, Nordic combined (the ski jumping portion), bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events, and still serves as the training grounds for dozens of athletes across a wide variety of sports. With just five months until the opening ceremonies in Beijing, the park is home to athletes doing everything they can to punch a ticket to the upcoming Games.
Nick Page, a 19-year-old moguls skier from Park City, wasn’t even alive when Park City hosted the Games, being born just six months after the closing ceremony. Page finished last year’s World Cup schedule in ninth place and as the second-ranked American skier. Heading into this season, he has both the Olympics and improving his performance on the World Cup tour on his mind.
And it all begins with putting in work in the offseason. The facilities at UOP are a second home for Page, who estimates that he’s jumped off the water ramps there about 50,000 times. As a kid, he went there for 11 years during the summer and jumped six days a week most of the time.
“A big part of it is just the comfort level, jumping in the water is a lot simpler than jumping on the snow, that risk of getting hurt is a lot less,” he said. “But mechanics and everything are the same, you’re just changing it from on a flat surface to landing on something that’s got a little pitch to it.
“It’s a good place to learn all of our new things and really kind of break stuff down and get some consistent repetition on it just because the risk level is low. You can be really confident with stuff and let that translate right over to snow and you can pick up running right where you left off on the water ramp.”
During the season, Page’s day is on the snow all morning before putting in a couple of hours in the gym and then resting in order to do it all over again the next day. But during the summer, he puts in an hour and a half to two hours on the water ramps and then his gym workouts are more intense. Sometimes, he’ll throw in a round of golf at the end of the day as well to improve his mental focus.
In the gym, his focus is building strength, mostly in his lower body, as well as working on his conditioning and balance. Both are important in moguls skiing.
“Moguls is kind of unique because it’s so skill-based,” Page said. “There’s nothing you can do in the gym that’s going to make you a perfect moguls skier, it all happens from training on snow. But you can give yourself better chances of being able to take more runs in a day and getting better at your skills by doing that work in the gym and also preventing injuries.”
Teammate Brad Wilson, who was one spot ahead of Page in the World Cup moguls standings last year, knows the routines and pressures that come with training for a season with the Olympics on the horizon. The 29-year-old has been on the national team since 2012 and hopes to make his third appearance at the Olympics after an 18th-place finish in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 and a 20th-place result four years prior in Sochi, Russia. Wilson says this winter being an Olympic year doesn’t fundamentally change his offseason training, but admits that having that experience helps.
“It’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself just because it’s an Olympic year because of all the hype, but you’re going to perform better if you don’t do that,” Wilson said. “You just can’t get in your own way, so I would say that’s the best experience that I’ve gotten from being at the last two Olympics and kind of learning a lot that way.”
Wilson grew up in Butte, Montana, but later moved when he was 12 after his dad’s job driving for UPS was transferred to Salt Lake City. He skied for Wasatch Freestyle, the same team that Page would later ski for as well. Wilson still attended high school in Montana, so he would make trips to and from Montana when he wasn’t competing on the slopes.
Improving his jumping is Wilson’s focus this offseason, as he views it as one of his weaknesses. Like Page, he’ll split his time between jumping on the water ramps at UOP and working out in the gym. Wilson’s offseason work is concentrated on staying in shape to fully take advantage of training days on full courses once they open back up.
“Right now, it’s just jumping, so I kind of struggle with my jumping, so I’ve been able to zero in on that,” he said. “ I’ll spend all summer making sure I’m ready for those days where I get on a full course and I’m in good enough shape to get the most out of those training days.”
Aerials skier Ashley Caldwell is one of many U.S. Olympic hopefuls who moved across the country just to train. Caldwell hails from Ashburn, Virginia, and her parents originally made the trek from there to Park City back in 2002 to watch the Games in person.
But her journey to the Olympics truly kicked into gear when she was watching the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, and saw aerials for the first time. Four years later, she was competing at her first Olympics. She originally dreamed as a kid of making the Olympics in gymnastics, but now she’s getting ready to potentially make her fourth trip in aerials.
Caldwell has now lived in Park City for 10 years after moving as a teenager. The advantage to living in Park City year-round is that everything Caldwell needs is at her disposal. Most notably, she had her medial collateral ligament repaired twice here.
“Having the hospital right next to the ski team gym is perfect,” Caldwell said, referencing the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence. “I was in rehab within like two or three days, everyday for three hours a day.”
At UOP, Caldwell feels at home surrounded by the country’s best aerialists and the Olympic rings around the park, both of which also serve as inspiration. The water ramps at the park were renovated in 2015, replacing the previous four wooden ramps with seven steel, discipline-specific jumps as well as increasing the size of the pool. Caldwell says the water ramps at UOP are the best in the world now.
“They tore down the entire jumps, so they kind of moved some of the jumps around, made it a better shape,” she said. “The older ramps, they weren’t really to spec of what the World Cup sites are now. They were good, but they were all made of wood, now they’re made of metal. As time goes on, the Olympic sites have all gotten bigger. They have longer, steeper in-runs, more transition time, bigger jumps, so we kind of were able to mimic what the Olympic sites are now versus when the pool was built in ’93.”
The active lifestyle of Park City and its residents also plays into the lives of those who live there for Olympic training. Caldwell uses other sports like mountain biking to cross-train and stay active during the warmer months of the year. Park City serves as a year-long playground for some of America’s finest athletes.
“The Olympics are extremely stressful, so any way that you have to continue being a better athlete but not be extremely stressed out is really important going into an Olympic year,” Caldwell said. “Just being outside and living the Park City life is perfect for maintaining that balance of ‘I’m 100% dedicated to my goal (of) the Olympics, but also that is a lot to take on and how do you actually do that every day and every week.’”
Ella Johnson gave thought to the risk when she decided to close out her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School playing soccer and make a bid for another shot at the Class 4A state track meet podium finish.
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