MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Tomorrow, dozens of competitors will take to the slopes at Mount Snow in Vermont for the annual world championship of jack jumping. No judgment - we never heard of it either. So Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck went to find out what it's all about because even she, a lifelong skier, had no idea.
NINA KECK, BYLINE: Basically a jack jump is a ski with a seat bolted onto it. Some are tricked out with fancy suspension. Some may even use a snowboard. But most are very homemade. Jeff Wasielewski, a former ski instructor and patroller from Wilmington, Vt., has been jack jumping for 10 years. And he took me over to a beginner slope at Mount Snow to show me how it's done.
JEFF WASIELEWSKI: So this is your jack jump.
KECK: Wasielewski's rig is classic - a random ski, couple of pieces of wood, plenty of duct tape and a seat cushion he found at the dump.
WASIELEWSKI: I really think the key that helped me out pick up more speed over the years was the seat belt allowing me to actually really get into it and get a lot tighter with my turns.
KECK: That looks like it's courtesy Army Navy surplus store.
WASIELEWSKI: Yeah, I believe this is the old belt from my tool belt, and I just cut it up and modded it back together for this. We weren't kidding when we said most of the stuff came out of the dumpster.
KECK: The seats are low, so when it comes to technique, beginners tend to drag their feet on either side of the ski or worse, as I found out on my first lesson.
OK, I'm going for style points on this one. I will try not to hit you.
WASIELEWSKI: It's all right.
KECK: OK, I'm starting to go - picking up (laughter) speed. Oh, wow, (laughter) it's harder than it looks. OK, so how do I lean here - making a turn (laughter).
WASIELEWSKI: You're on the right track.
KECK: My first jack jump wipeout.
I took a few more diggers, then I strapped on my real skis to see how an expert does it. Good jack jumpers make it look easy. And yes, some do take them over jumps. They tend to lay back with their legs out straight, dragging their hands behind them to help steer. It's like the ultimate core workout. I struggle to keep up with Wasielewski as he rockets down a steeper run.
WASIELEWSKI: Woo-hoo (ph).
KECK: You're ripping.
WASIELEWSKI: Woo-we (ph). (Laughter) So as you can see on a nice powder day like today, you get a lot of stuff coming up off the ground into your face (laughter).
KECK: I saw some other skiers turning their heads.
WASIELEWSKI: Yeah, that is a lot of the fun, you know, when everyone around you is saying, what is he on; what is he doing? And, you know, even when we first started, I could hear someone yelling, like, well, he's about to go down on that thing. And sure enough, there we went (laughter) - all right, almost safely home.
KECK: Jack jumping is not without some controversy. Most ski resorts in Vermont don't allow it because the rigs don't work very well with chairlifts. And there are concerns about safety. Mount Snow gets a special permit every year for tomorrow's championships, and Wasielewski will be among the racers.
WASIELEWSKI: I am ninth in the world currently in jack jump.
KECK: You're smiling.
WASIELEWSKI: Yes, yes, I am (laughter).
KECK: 'Cause there's only one race a year, and it's more tailgate reunion than a world cup event. But winters are long in Vermont, and jack jumpers say you might as well make them fun.
WASIELEWSKI: That was fun.
KECK: For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in West Dover, Vt.
WASIELEWSKI: That's already 50 percent more practice than I had before last year's competition.
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