ANDALUSIA -- One by one, snowboarders and skiers zoomed down a slope, over a 14-and-a-half-foot ramp and into the air atSki Snowstar Winter Sports Park on Saturday. But they didn't land on snow.|
They were landing on a giant, 50-foot-by-50-foot blue US Airbag.
Three US Airbags are touring the nation right now, one on either coast and one in the Midwest, saidJesse Stutz, of Minneapolis, Minn., with the US Airbag crew.
The airbags give snowboarders and skiers the chance to try out tricks and free-styling maneuvers with the safety of a pillow-like landing pad to catch their fall.
Club music boomed through speakers as each skier and snowboarder pounded down the slope, zipped up the ramp and flew through the air.
"I'm going to try to do a back flip," said Sam Hanna, 12, of Bettendorf.
Sam said he has been snowboarding for five years and had tried front flips before, "but not on an airbag."
He even was comfortable trying his hand at back flips with the US Airbag there, though.
"You know that you're not going to get hurt, so you try more stuff," he said.
Snowboarder Blake Hoppe, 12, of Coal Valley, also was taking advantage of the fluffy landing.
He said he's spent some time on jumps and rails, but he's never tackled a ramp like the monster just in front of the bag.
"It's just like landing on a big pillow," he said. "It just felt really weird, like I was going to hit the ground hard. But it was fun."
Blake was hoping to hit a 360-degree grab. He said he has landed 360-degree turns before, but never while grabbing his board.
While the steep slope leading up to the sky-high ramp seemed a bit intimidating at first, skiers and snowboarders said they lost their fear after that first jump.
"It looks a little scary (at first)," Blake said. But, after you do it once, you realize, "this is so much fun... I've got to do that again," he said. "It just feels like you're flying."
Mr. Stutz kept an eye on the skiers and snowboarders from the deck near the bag, orchestrating impromptu dance parties here and there with the rest of the Airbag crew and the locals.
Most US Airbag tour stops only last three days, Mr. Stutz said, but the Snowstar event will last through Jan. 27 because of the interest.
He was happy to see kids try a variety of tricks to "learn how to land here" before they "take it to the snow."
A snowboarder himself, he said he was having a good time hanging out with kids and teens who love doing the same thing.
"It's a blast," he said. "It makes you feel good."
Snowstar general manager Ed Meyer said the resort was lucky to score a spot on the tour. He said there was a waiting list of resorts that wanted visits, but Snowstar employees secured the local stop last summer after befriending US Airbag employees at an education seminar.
He said it gives snowboarders and skiers a chance to develop new skills safely.
"It's always fun to offer something different," he said. "It's pretty cool."
And there were plenty of kids and teens taking advantage Saturday. Mr. Stutz said about 100 people per day will fall onto the bag, but because it goes so fast and the bag reinflates right away, the line moves quickly.
Skier Zac Boss, 16, of Lincoln, Ill., was one of many who got several chances to hit the bag Saturday.
He was "out there killing it, having a good time" withhis Boy Scout troop, he said.
Attempting to land jumps on snow is "a lot more painful," whereas the US Airbag "was really forgiving," he said.
Mr. Boss wanted to encourage everyone who skis or snowboards to give the bag a try. Even if you aren't a "free-styler," he said, "just come out here and try it and have a good time with it."
Hit the US Airbag through Jan. 27
Tickets for the US Airbag are available at Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park, 9500 126th St. West, Andalusia, at the tent on the deck near the bag.
A ticket for three jumps is $10; 10 jumps is $25; and 25 jumps is $45.
Helmets are required for all jumpers.
For more information and US Airbag hours, visit usairbag.com/events/2012-winter-tour or skisnowstar.com or call (309) 798-2666.
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