For most people, flying down a slope at more than 35 miles per hour, then launching nearly 30 feet in the air while flipping and twisting without being able to see the ground usually results in a sudden awakening from a frightening dream.
But for 17-year-old Mike Rossi of Long Valley, it’s a dream that gets better with every jump.
Rossi, a freestyle aerialist on the U.S. Ski Team, won the 2011 Nor-Am Grand Prix Championship back in February, and has set his sights on Russia for the 2014 Olympics.
Hard work and focus certainly play a major role in Rossi’s success, but ‘Jersey Mike’–as he is affectionately called by his coaches and teammates for being the only member on the team from the Garden State–was a natural from the start, according to his parents, Bill and Barbara Rossi.
Mike Rossi was just 4-years-old when he strapped on his first set of skis. “I loved it right away,” he said. “I was on the black diamond the second time I went out. There wasn’t much turning involved, but I was going straight downhill, and my uncle couldn’t keep up with me.”
Rossi’s uncle, an experienced skier, showed Mike how to take on the slopes, but it was short-lived.
“We took him off the skis after the second time,” Barb Rossi said. “He was going too fast. We had to put him on a snowboard to slow him down.”
With skiing behind him, Rossi went about his adolescence as most kids do, going to school and playing around in his spare time. One of his favorite activities, though, was jumping on the trampoline in the backyard of his Long Valley home.
The summer before the start of eighth grade, Rossi vacationed in Park City, Utah, to visit family. Upon his uncle’s urging, Mike took part in a three-day trampoline camp in Park City, where he surprised–and intrigued–aerial ski coaches.
The coaches then requested that Rossi take part in a two-week camp, and assured the family that with a little bit of training and practice, Mike could do these acrobatic feats on skis and be potentially very good at it.
What Bill and Barb Rossi didn’t expect, though, was such quick success.
Rossi began winning small competitions and made the decision that this, freestyle aerial skiing, was what he wanted to do. He moved out to Utah and stayed with his aunt and uncle, and enrolled in the local high school.
When training and school became too much–Rossi was forced to miss competitions because of too many school absences–the teen enrolled in The Keystone School, a fully-accredited online high school.
The result was Rossi placing third in his first attempt at the Junior Nationals Competition.
The early success helped Rossi take the next step, as he joined the U.S. Ski Team and moved to its Lake Placid, NY training center in June of 2010. “It was very hard at first,” Barb Rossi said, “to have him so far away. Now he’s about a five-hour car ride from home, which is so much better. During his time in Utah, we bought 16 round trip plane tickets between all of us.”
The training was kicked up a notch, as Rossi and his teammates–all between 15 and 22-years old–began training not only for competitions, but for the chance to compete in the 2014 winter Olympics. Rossi’s day is spent mostly in the air, as he practices flips on a trampoline after breakfast, and takes off from the ramps before lunch. A two-hour training session in the afternoon, followed by an hour of weight training keeps the developmental athletes busy.
The practice jumps have the aerialists land in the water, just another step in the long journey before a competition.
Water jumps help the athletes prepare for practicing live jumps on snow ramps. In order to be allowed to practice on a real ramp, an aerialist must conduct 100 water jumps of the same routine, plus five qualifying jumps for coaches to give final approval.
“It’s the most amazing thing in the world to me, to train to be the best in the world at something,” Bill Rossi said. “Not only that, but he’s doing well in school, too.”
“I knew Mike was going to do something,” said Barb Rossi. “We wanted to expose our kids to what we could so they could do whatever they wanted.”
Before his current weeklong stint at home, Rossi had completed 165 jumps in just two weeks. The self-titled risk taker also admitted one trepidation he does have: a slight fear of heights.
“If I look over the edge of something, or I can’t control it, it definitely scares me,” Rossi said. “But I’m probably the goofiest person on the hill. I’m usually making jokes before I make a jump. I begin concentrating when I’m headed down (the slope), and I’m done once I land.”
Olympic team members aren’t named until six weeks before the games, which will take place in February of 2014. Coached by 1998 Gold Medal-winning aerial skier Eric Bergoust–nicknamed Bergy–Rossi likes his chances.
“Bergy and I get along really well,” Rossi said. “We’re on the same page, and he likes to see me take on bigger jumps. Bergy changed the sport when he won the Gold, and he’s a great coach.”
Between now and December of 2013, Rossi will continue to train, practice and compete, and hopes to win competitions to get him ranked high enough to be included on the team.
Rossi will continue to enjoy his teen years and chase a golden dream that he doesn’t want to wake up from anytime soon.
If you'd like to connect with Jersey Mike Rossi, he can be found on Facebook by the name Jersey Mike, on Twitter, @jerseymikeflips, on YouTube with jerseymikeaerials, or on his website, www.jerseymikeaerials.com.