Things look pretty scary here at the top of the 35-foot faux ski slope at Woodward at Copper, an indoor training ground for trick skiers and snowboarders.
That incline, for one. It's got a 43-degree pitch, which makes it one of the steepest slopes at Copper Mountain Ski Resort.
But Kim Stacey, who is leading the introductory class I'm taking and also happens to be a two-time world champion snowboarder, eases me into it gently.
I've spent an hour building up to this moment, preparing to swoop down the "Snowflex" covered hillside, launch myself up and over a 5-foot jump and into a pit filled with blue foam blocks that look like oversized ice cubes.
Tricks and twists and aerial moves aboard skis and snowboards are all the rage these days at North American ski resorts, and like other Texans who don't get much time on the slopes, I'm determined not to get left behind on my annual visit to the Colorado mountains. That's why I've signed up for an hour-and-45-minute introductory session.
I'm (of course) the only actual adult participating. The other two students are teenagers with a background in gymnastics. Clearly, Emily Levy, 16, and Nikki Machalek, 15, of Boulder, Colo., don't have a creaky back or irritable knees like I do.
We started by loosening up and stretching, then doing a series of somersaults and handstands. Then we advanced to the super-springy flybed trampolines, where we bounced up and down like gazelles on pogo sticks. We took a few soaring Superman-style leaps into the foam pit before donning our ski boots, skis and helmets and climbing the stairs to the top of the smaller of two hills.
We eased ourselves down the bunny slope first, getting a feel for it before moving to the bigger, steeper hill, which has a sharp jump at the bottom. I'm still on the smaller hill by the time the teen-agers are zipping down Big Daddy, soaring off the launch pad into the crash pit with ease.
"Once you go off, it feels really cool because you get all this air," Levy tells me helpfully after she makes a run.
"It was so easy. It looks so much scarier than it actually is," Machalek nods encouragingly.
The gradual progression is the point, Stacey says.
Instead of launching yourself off a spine-cracking, ice-hard jump to see if you know what you're doing, this place lets you try it bit by bit. You can strap on a harness and test a new trick out on a trampoline before taking the move to the indoor hill and, finally, outside.
This season, Woodward is adding another step, too — an on-mountain airbag, so rookies can test their skills outdoors, but with a safety net that's not quite as punishing as hard-packed snow.
"It's just a great way to learn and progress in a safe environment," Stacey says.
You don't need any experience jumping or doing tricks before taking a class. You should, however, be at least an intermediate skier. Stacey has taught folks ages 8 to 70.
"We're not teaching people how to ski or board; we're teaching them how to get into terrain parks," says Phoebe Mills, a former Olympic gymnast and program manager at Woodward at Copper.
The Copper Mountain facility, an offshoot of the gymnastics, BMX and skateboard camps that Woodward has operated on the East coast since the 1970s, opened in February 2009.
Tons of professionals, including Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler, have practiced here. Drop by during an open session and you'll see people soaring off the jumps, twisting and twirling like it's nothing.
The 19,400-square-foot facility, known as the Barn, has six trampolines, a spring floor, tumble track, three large foam pits, a skateboard bowl and street skate area and a jib run with a hand rail, quarter pipe and cliff drops. It's packed with 23,000 of those impact-absorbing blue foam cubes.
"We want kids to come in here and try their tricks before trying them on the snow," Mills says.
Finally, I've steeled my nerve.
As the teens perfect their 360s, I push off for my first ride down the big hill. I sideslip partway, to slow my speed. I'm going so slow I barely have enough momentum to glide up the jump at the bottom. Somehow, I hit it, pop ever so briefly into the air and let out a squeal. I flop into the foam blocks with a poof, feeling like I've landed in a swimming pool filled with marshmallows.
And there I wallow, like a dinosaur caught in molten goo at the La Brea Tar Pits, until someone tosses me a rope and lugs me unceremoniously to safety.
When I get out, I can't get up the hill fast enough.
I've got to do it again. And this time, less sideslipping and more speed.
I think I've got an Olympics in my future.