Athletes flip for tramp program |

Athletes flip for tramp program

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi Daily News
Winter Park CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News | Sky-Hi Daily News

After most people hang up the sweat towel for the night, but before the lights go out, six of Winter Park’s best freeride skiers descend on the Grand Park Community Recreation Center to practice their Cork 12’s, Kang 9’s and D-spins with trampoline coordinator Chris Rybak.

A freestyle skier who retired from the NorAm tour in 2005, Rybak is now the operating owner of the Sushi Bar in Winter Park. Lately, when he’s not rolling yellowfin tuna, he’s at the rec center, getting back to his roots.

For the past six weeks he’s been building the rec center’s new trampoline program. The structured curriculum first evaluates the student’s skill level, places them in the appropriate class and helps them advance, Rybak said.

From learning to jump to busting out a Double Cork 1260, the trampoline program covers it all.

“I’m super excited to have the opportunity to build this program with the rec center and give back some of the knowledge I was able to obtain over my ski career to the community,” Rybak said.

When the rec center opened in December with its 7-foot-deep foam pit and professional trampoline, the staff wasn’t quite prepared for the overwhelming interest from not only gymnasts, competitive skiers and snowboarders but birthday parties, beginners and even adults.

It quickly became apparent that the rec center would need to develop a program to make bouncing and flipping safe for people of all sizes and abilities.

“This trampoline has three times the bounce of a regular blacktop trampoline,” Rybak explained.

A wrong landing, a miscalculated flip, a jump into the foam pit without looking, and somebody can get hurt.

“This thing’s a rocket,” he said.

Speaking of rockets, 10-year old K2-sponsored freeride skier Birk Irving is among the elite who practice here with Rybak in his advanced class.

Despite the fact that he’s half the age and about a third the size of his classmates, Irving can bounce some six feet in the air, clearing Rybak’s head and pulling off a backflip or 360 grab in the process.

“He’s doing stuff way beyond anyone else his age,” Rybak said. “These bigger guys push him to try new things.”

Among the “bigger” pro riders practicing their aerials on the rec center tramp are Ricky Torres, Connor Nelson and Parks Thompson.

Using a video camera Rybak records their jumps and plays them back in slow motion or still frames as a teaching tool, analyzing positioning and landings.

Torres moved to the area from Michigan four years ago to train with the Winter Park Competition Center. His goal has been to go pro and just this year he picked up a couple sponsorships along with Nelson, his longtime riding buddy.

Torres said he’s noticed a difference after only six weeks of working with Rybak: “Every week I come back feeling a little more confident, a little bit better.”

“This would have been a huge advantage to have this when I was skiing pro,” Rybak added.

The world of skiing is a different beast than it was even five years ago. When Rybak ended his ski career in 2005, an off-axis backflip was the trick to beat. Now kids are working on off-axis front twists with two rotations and off-axis 1260 twists, he said.

With all the new school, big air tricks, a new world order had to be brought to freestyle and freeride skiing. Now, before busting out a new trick on the snow, a skier must first test the jump on the trampoline, then practice it 100 times on a water ramp before even being allowed to take the qualifying test on water.

The skier must then perform the jump perfectly five times in a row on the water ramp before they are signed off to try it on snow, explained Comp Center freestyle coach Freddy Mooney, who was helping Rybak in the trampoline center last week.

All of which makes the trampoline program at the rec center a valuable tool to local ski teams: “We finally have a facility that we don’t have to travel to,” Mooney said.

Even Olympian Michelle Roark took time during her training to practice her 720 on the trampoline at the rec center here in January.

The rec center’s trampoline program currently involves about 36 students in two beginner classes on Sunday, an intermediate class on Tuesday and an advanced class on Wednesday. And, that’s without advertising.

The program wasn’t started until after the rec district’s 2010 Winter Activities Guide was published. Rybak anticipates that his program could double – even triple – in size as the ski season ends and school lets out.

That’s because freestyle skiers – those who are performing tricks off steep jumps – are discouraged from practicing their aerials on trampolines during the ski season because the angle of the freestyle mogul and aerial jumps puts the skier’s twists and flips at a different angle than the trampoline, throwing off their landings, Mooney said.

Freeride skiers like Irving and Torres – those who are performing tricks and jumps in terrain parks and in the less formal slopestyle setting (a series of jumps and rails on the hillside) – are better able to practice their aerials on a trampoline without messing up their game in competition.

But the trampoline isn’t only for skiers, Rybak said. It’s a total body and cardiovascular workout that builds strength, muscle control and body awareness. Even a dozen jumps on the trampoline can work out arm muscles and stomach muscles (as this writer can attest).

And, the best part, Rybak said, is that the kids barely even notice that they’re getting a workout because they are having so much fun jumping.

In the months to come, Rybak will be bringing in other competition center coaches to help with the more advanced students and he’ll be adding classes for all skill levels, including adults.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or

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