×

Pelham skier has Olympic dreams

In aerial skiing you conquer the fear factor in stages. The first back flip is an entry into the realm. The moment you land following two mid-air flips you’ve joined a very exclusive club.

When you conquered the triple flip, like 17-year-old Eric Loughran of Pelham, you might get a special phone call, like he did in early January. It was a call, you could say, Loughran has been preparing to receive for most of his life.

It was a coach with the U.S. Ski Team inviting Loughran to compete on the World Cup circuit for the rest of the winter. In his first competition, two weeks ago, against some of the best aerialists in the world, Loughran finished second among U.S. competitors and 13th overall.

Not a bad debut for the youngest skier in the competition, who three years ago was a freshman at Pelham High School.

A lot has changed in his life since. As a 15-year-old he was invited to train full time with the U.S. development team.

For the last three years he has divided his time between the Olympic training facilities in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah.

“When I first saw him he was 15 and I knew immediately he was a major talent,’’ said Eric Bergoust, a U.S. developments coach who won the gold medal in aerials at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. “In the last two years he’s come along way.

“What I like about Eric is the mature approach he takes to the sport, getting the most out of every day and doing the little things, like getting the proper rest, eating the right foods and learning to visualize each jump before he takes it.’’

To get so good at so young an age was no accident. Loughran starting skiing at 2 at Loon Mountain, near his family’s vacation home. He began gymnastics training a year later.

He competed as both a freestyle skier and gymnast until he was 11 and the sports began to overlap. Loughran was forced to choose. The same year he competed in an international gymnastics meet in Las Vegas, he flipped on skis for the first time.

“I won a competition in skiing, so I guess that made the decision a little easier,’’ Loughran said. “There no question the gymnastics training helped me become a better skier.’’

So did his time spend with Wesley Preston at the Freestyle America program at Waterville Valley, who also trained mogul skier Hannah Kearney of
Norwich, Vt., who won the gold medal in her event at the 2010 Olympics.

Loughran began a residency program at Lake Placid as a 13-year-old, taking advantage of the facilities water ramp. Skiers go down a plastic covered ramp and jump similar to jumps on snow. The big difference is they land in a pool of water.

“Before I try a jump on snow I’ve done it at least 100 times on the water ramps,’’ Loughran said. “Everything in aerial skiing is a progression.

“You start with one flip, add a twist, then a double with two twists until you get up to triple with five spins. Right now I’m at a triple with two spins.’’

By next December and the Olympic Trials, Loughran hopes to be adding four twists to his triple. In training he’s done thousands of jumps and extensive training on trampolines, where he can approximate the height (50 feet or more) he gets off a jump.

But despite all his experience, Loughran says the fear factor never completely goes away.

“Anyone who says they aren’t scared is pretty much lying,’’ Loughran said. “But in a way, that’s what makes the sport fun.

“I’ve pretty much lost the fear on the double. But every time I get up on the hill for the triple and look down, it looks like a huge building I’m going to ski into.”

His time in the air is between 3-4 seconds, but Loughran said it seems longer.

“Everything is slow motion and everything is quiet,’’ Loughran said, “accept the coach is yelling at you to stretch or pull, things you can’t pick up when you are upside down.

“Most people rely on the coach 100 percent. I don’t as much, I just keep his instructions in the back of my mind and look at the ground to tell me where I am.’’

Bergoust thinks Loughran has an outside chance of making the 2014 Olympic team, but says the Winter Olympics in Korea in 2018 are a more realistic goal.

But considering how fast Loughran has progressed, nobody is ruling anything out.