How a U.S. ski jumper prepped for Winter Olympics in summer

Ever wonder how athletes training for the Winter Olympics stay on their game during the summer months?

World-class athletes must train constantly to maintain their competitive edge, so excelling in a cold-weather sport presents unique challenges when the days grow warmer. U.S. ski jumper Kevin Bickner, now competing in the Winter Olympics, makes adjustments to his fitness routine and uses different equipment in warmer months.

Bickner, 21, soared to a new American ski-jumping record on March 19, flying 244.5 meters (nearly three football fields in length) at a competition in Vikersund, Norway. While he didn’t win the competition, he finished a career-best 15th and established himself as a rising star.

Bickner trains on the same track all year long when he’s practicing his runs. In winter, it is covered with ice, and in the summer, it’s coated with an ice substitute — plastic or a particularly hard type of ceramic.

But even during the warm U.S. summer months, Bickner requires a snowlike landing surface. “We use mats made of plastic bristles, similar to what you’d find on a broom,” he says. “From far away, it looks like [artificial] turf. And it’s very similar to landing on snow.”

The changing seasons signal other shifts for ski jumpers. “Our physical training differs quite a bit from summer to winter,” says Bickner. “That’s because a big part of our sport involves an athlete’s weight.

“In the summer, we weigh a little bit more and focus on getting stronger. In the winter, we have to maintain the strength we built up over the summer, and a lot of time is devoted to technique training.”

Smiling man in ski gear (© Rok Rakun/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News)
Kevin Bickner competes in the Ski Jumping World Cup on March 25 in Planica, Slovenia. (© Rok Rakun/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News)

During winter, when they’re traveling and competing, ski jumpers weigh less in order to be more aerodynamic, which helps them jump farther. Athletes do fewer practice jumps in the winter because of their packed schedules, Bickner says.

Like many athletes, ski jumpers rely on technology to help improve.

“Our coaches will often video our jumps and flights, and we review that footage,” Bickner says. “A lot of the [ski-jumping] hills have WiFi now, so we can load our video footage right away onto iPads and laptops, and watch our mistakes right after our runs.”

Bickner said that while competing in South Korea, he also plans to enjoy Korean culture and get to know his fellow athletes.

A version of this story was published on October 12, 2017.