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No snow? No problem! Air Bag lets Holderness Skiers Flip, Spin, and Grab All Summer Long!

Greg Kwasnik
It’s the height of summer in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, but our student-athletes are still skiing and snowboarding thanks to Holderness School’s innovative new air bag jump.
Built into the hillside above the school’s football field, the jump provides a year-round venue for the Holderness freeski, snowboarding, and big mountain teams to throw tricks and improve their skills - all while greatly reducing the risk of injury. Now, instead of trying a new trick for the first time on snow, Holderness athletes can practice aerial maneuvers dozens or hundreds of times on the air bag jump, where an impact-absorbing, 1,800-square-foot air bag ensures a soft landing. 

The air bag, designed and built by BigAirBagⓇ, a leading manufacturer of air bags for freestyle and action sports, promises to be an invaluable training tool for Holderness athletes. In a Holderness athlete’s overall training progression, it will bridge the gap between the school’s existing training trampoline and competitive, on-snow aerials.   
 
“Going into next year, I see a reduction in injuries, an increase in our progression, and on the competition side I see more podiums,” says Alan Smarse, Holderness School’s director of snowboard & freeski. Beyond podium finishes, the jump’s true value comes in its ability to keep kids healthy and motivated. “If we avoid injury, that means our kids don’t lose time on snow,” Smarse says. “It also means they don’t have a mental block, which means we can practice better and smarter, and put them in a better position to be successful.”
 
Boasting a 70-foot-long ramp, 27-degree slope, and four possible takeoff configurations, the jump can be tailored to any level of skier or snowboarder. Several large fans keep the 10-foot-high bag inflated, and the ramp itself is covered by an artificial turf-like surface that mimics the sliding properties of snow. But unlike a jump made out of snow, which changes constantly with weather and use, the air bag jump provides a perfectly consistent training environment. “This all makes it so that the tenth jump an athlete takes feels the same as the first,” Smarse says. “That’s really the whole purpose.”
 
On a recent summer afternoon, skiers and snowboarders enrolled in a Freestyle America summer camp spent several hours training on the Holderness air bag jump. Taking cues and instruction from several experienced coaches, the campers methodically launched off the ramp and spun through the air before landing with a soft whoosh on the giant air bag. One Holderness athlete at the camp, a 16-year-old freeskier, managed to land her first 360 after just two days on the jump. A similar training progression would have taken much longer on snow. “That would have taken a month on snow with perfect conditions,” Smarse says.
 
Once school starts this fall, the school’s skiers and snowboarders will use the jump to get a similar head start on their winter training. Athletes will be guided by Holderness coaches with US Ski & Snowboard aerial coaching certifications, who will give constant feedback and ensure a safe training environment. Once the snow falls and competitions begin, Smarse hopes the jump will have given his athletes a competitive edge – and kept injuries at bay. “Even if we weren’t getting progression from this, keeping the kids healthy is, by far, our highest priority across the board,” Smarse says.
 
Construction of the air bag jump was made possible by a transformational $6 million gift in support of Holderness athletics. That anonymous gift is also funding a number of other major projects on and off campus, including the construction of five world-class homologated race loops and a snowmaking system on the school’s Nordic trail system; the creation of several new athletics fields, including a lighted turf field; and the building of the Mittersill Performance Center at Cannon Mountain for the school’s alpine skiers.
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