Daredevils brave area's icy slopes

Winter: Young snow fiends take flight as they navigate the hills and jumps wrought by recent snowstorms.

February 02, 2000|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

"Did you see the air he got?"

The boys, oblivious to the cold, speak in awed tones as their comrade trudges back up the hill on the grounds of Medfield Heights Elementary School in north Baltimore.

It was just a foot-high ramp made of packed snow near the bottom of the slope, but the kid, riding a plastic sled, soared over its tip and rose two feet in the air before landing hard on his butt to complete the run.

During Maryland's blustery white siege of the past weeks, sledders have borrowed moves aplenty from the extreme sports files. Wherever there is a snowy incline, sledders, skiers, snowboard shredders and an occasional biker came under the spell of the big air competitions, the spins, flips, half and quarter pipe acrobatics popularized by events such as last month's Gravity Games and the forthcoming Winter X Games.

Kids may not know the names of extreme stars such as super shredder Barrett Christy or big air man Ben Hinkley, but they do know that sliding down a hill head-first on a Flexible Flyer is so so retro. Moguls, packed and maintained, are a must. And if you can make it to the bottom in a surfer's crouch, so much the better.

P.K. Fisher, a recent transplant from Arizona, pulled a gashed plastic sled from his car trunk Monday afternoon at the Baltimore Country Club on Club Road where Suicide Hill beckons.

He had already put it through its paces on the slopes of St. Paul's School, where he is a student. But on this, yet another snow day, he stuck close to his Roland Park home. Fisher says he likes to start on Suicide Hill's more modest inclines, "work for a while and then go to the big one."

His inspiration? Watching snowboarding competitions on television. "You see it on TV and just transfer it over," Fisher, 16, says.

Timothy Lester arrived at Medfield Heights Monday with his boys, Timothy Lester Jr., 11, and Jonathan, 10, who were enjoying their seventh day off from school in a row.

When it started snowing and sleeting Sunday, the Lesters rushed out and bought snowboards, and here they were, raring to test the crunchy terrain.

Lester didn't let his boys take the larger ramps standing up. "It's dangerous in a way," he says.

In the "sit down zone," the Lester kids curl up on their boards and aim for the hard-packed jump below. Dad says they take their cues from Coolboarders and Tony Hawk Pro-Skaters, popular Sony Playstation video games in which digital daredevils defy gravity, and in Hawk's case, may even bleed after a simulated tumble.

At Medfield Heights, Matthew Viel, 15, and Eddie Anders, 14, add snow to their mogul, patting it down with care. Their goal? To build the jump high enough "so it could hurt" when they land, Anders says.

In their pursuit of x-cellence, local sledders and boarders have made ingenious adjustments to their playgrounds.

On the north Baltimore Notre Dame campus, sledders and snowboarders placed a plastic drain pipe perpendicular to the hill, packed snow over and around it, and voila, created a jump that sent the bravest snowboarders into frosty orbit.

Last week's blizzard drew more than sledders and snowboarders to the peaks of Baltimore. A handful of snow mountain bikers raced down rutted Suicide Hill, going airborne with each mogul, until sliding to a stop at the club's remaining sand trap near Falls Road.

Sunday's sleet didn't lend itself to X Games fervor, but stalwarts at Suicide Hill Monday made the best of icy conditions. There were Brian Bieretz and Jake Mendelson, both of Mount Washington, skidding and twirling on colorful plastic saucers.

On ice, they attain higher speed and height, but when they land, "it feels like cement," Bieretz says between runs.

The possibilities for injury are endless. Once you're dislocated from your sled, you may also be dislocated from your shoulder. Head over heels spills happen with foolish consistency.

It's a wonder there isn't a plague of tailbone injuries. But there have been few if any extreme snow sport injuries, say representatives from both Good Samaritan and Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

So slippery, so far, so good. Parents can only pray that one competitive extreme sport doesn't capture the imagination of our youth: freestyle snowmobiling.

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