High above an enormous pool tinged a preternatural shade of blue, women are soaring through the air. They’re taking turns, spinning, twisting, and flipping as they descend, skis strapped to their feet. Above them is the wide bright blue of open sky in sunshine, behind them, the indigo of low mountains?. Their bodies make sharp dark angles before they hit the water, skis first, and are submerged. They are female members of the 2018 U.S. Olympic freestyle ski team, and when it isn’t winter, they train in water.
When the photographer Cole Barash first saw an image of skiers at the state-of-the-art Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool at Utah Olympic Park, he was mesmerized. “It was visually so interesting, yet so odd at the same time—ski jumping into water?” he says. He was fascinated by the idea of translating an athletic practice into a totally different climate, or what he called “a true juxtaposition of an outdoor sport with a man-made training facility, in vast proportions.” In October, he traveled to Park City to capture members of the 2018 Olympic team honing their form.
These athletes, all of whom are now in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the ?Winter Games??, compete within a category that falls outside the traditional purview of Nordic or alpine skiing?: Freestyle skiing first appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, and became medal events in 1992, for moguls, and 1994, for aerials. (The women’s ski jumping competition was only added to the Olympic Games at Sochi, Russia, in 2014—90 years after men’?s ski jumping debuted.) The women’s freestyle ski team shot by Barash are mogul skiers—Jaelin Kauf, Keaton McCargo, and Morgan Schild—who navigate a heavily grooved and mounded course, and aerialists—Ashley Caldwell, Kiley McKinnon, and Madison Olsen—who ski off of short jumps, completing all sorts of backflips and twists. All have to stick their landings after hurtling through the air many meters off the ground.
At the freestyle pool, first built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and remodeled three years ago, the athletes ascend a giant scaffolding structure to the top of the water ramps, covered in plastic with a surface ?that ?mimics smooth snow. Jets in the oversize pool below them create a bubbling effect, which softens their landing. With a deep breath and a 90-degree hop, they hit the ramp, gain speed, then launch into the air at the jump. The hard “smack” of their skis on the water when they come down is a reminder that, in competition, the snow is much less forgiving.
In October, it was cold outside, intermittently sunny and rainy, and Barash says the skiers looked exhausted but exhilarated, climbing the ramps, skiing down, swimming to the side of the pool, and going back up again. For all but Caldwell, this will be their first ??Olympic Games??