Rolf Wilson got hooked early on gelande, one of skiing's niche sports, but he couldn't compete until he turned 18 as his parents refused to sign the waiver. But now, 14 years later, Wilson broke his own world record at Steamboat Ski Resort and plans to defend his title at the North American Gelande Championships Feb. 26-27 at Montana Snowbowl.
Gelande is ski jumping in alpine gear with a fixed binding, rather than the free heel that Nordic jumpers use in the Winter Olympics. The sport garners a cadre of faithful competitors who tour a North American circuit, often serving as their own jump prep crew and event organizers just for the flight. "When you're up in the air, it really seems like minutes," Wilson told OnTheSnow. "Your brain is calculating what is going on. You think 'if I pull out of this, it's really going to hurt.'"
Wilson, co-owner and personal trainer at the Main Street Gym in Bozeman, Mont., broke his own 2005 world record of 366 feet by sailing 374 feet Feb. 6 at Steamboat. "It was the best experience when it comes to ski jumping that I have ever had," said Wilson. " I opened up my V, stuck out my chin, saw the world record line go by, landed soft, and stood right back up with my hands in the air."
He attributes his record flight to a change in training and technique. "I went down with the intention of trying to break the hill record," he said. "This year, I totally changed my conditioning and nutrition. That was the key." He also eliminated a tuck at the end of the jump that is usually done for style points that aren't part of the Steamboat competition. "I decided to hold my flying position for a split second further. Game plan worked," he added.
Wilson now faces maintaining his title at the North American Gelande Championship Feb. 26-27 at Montana Snowbowl. The Snowbowl course produces shorter jumps than Steamboat, but it's a much more technical course. "It's a lot smaller, but very mighty," explained Wilson. "You've got to be strong and aggressive."
The Steamboat course is a straight shot, but Snowbowl's uses natural terrain that demands turns and avoiding obstacles. "You're concentrating on the flat when the world just drops out from beneath you," described Wilson, adding that speeds reach 40 mph off the jump. In flight, a giant boulder sits on the left near the take off, and the landing, which can "eat your lunch," Wilson said, crosses under a chairlift.
The trophy for Snowbowl's gelande reads like a chronicle of the Wilson family, with his oldest brother Brent winning from 1998-2001. Rolf and his younger brother Erik have traded off the title ever since with Rolf winning the past two year and tying Erik's hill record of 205 feet in 2010.
Montana Snowbowl's gelande features an $8,000 cash purse with seedings on Saturday for pros and amateurs followed by a Calcutta for the pros. A giant crowd shows up for the finals on Sunday. Spectators who don't have lift tickets or season passes must pay a $3 fee. The resort encourages carpooling. The party ends Sunday afternoon with a long-standing tradition of an unknown naked jumper sailing through the air accompanied by cheers and applause.
Check out this YouTube video from The Missoulian with Rolf Wilson walking viewers through the Snowbowl Gelande.