Skiing comes to famous baseball park
Olympic silver medalist Devin Logan pictured herself standing atop the 140-foot ski jump that towers over Fenway Park's Green Monster, hitting her jump and then coming to a stop right about where a batter would stand.
"Sliding into home plate, coming in safe, hearing the crowd cheer like I just hit a grand slam," she said before practicing for a freestyle skiing and snowboarding jumpfest Feb. 11, 12, at the home of the Boston Red Sox. "It's gonna be sick."
The ballpark that John Updike lauded as a "lyric little bandbox" was totally tricked out -- Dude! -- for Big Air at Fenway, with a concert stage where third base would be, the Red Sox batting cage converted to a room for waxing and tuning skis, and of course, a 14-story ramp right in the middle of the snow-covered diamond.
More than 75 athletes from 25 countries took park in men's and women's snowboarding and freeskiing, part of an attempt to bring the sport down from the mountain and into cities where more people can enjoy it. There are about a handful of Big Air events each year now on ramps made of scaffolding, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
"Putting this stadium inside Fenway Park is a bodacious, bodacious concept," said Calum Clark, a vice president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
"It's not too often that we get to ski in urban environments," Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Joss Christensen said, who signed his name inside the Green Monster scoreboard and checked out the visitor's clubhouse when he went to check out the site. "Usually we spend a lot of time up in the mountains, away from cities. It's huge for us to be able to show people what we do."
Snowboarder Ty Walker said she had been to Fenway for baseball games, including Derek Jeter's finale, a Goo Goo Dolls concert and most recently the Boston College-Notre Dame football game. She won a gold medal at a World Cup Big Air in Istanbul in 2014 and remembers hearing the crowd cheering all the way up at the top of the ramp.
"There's going to be 20,000 people here," said Walker, who grew up in Vermont. "To think of that in a place that so much has happened, to hear people I know cheering me on is very special to me."
Practice on a windless and cloudy afternoon coincided with "Truck Day" at Fenway, and a few dozen Red Sox fans stood behind barriers outside the ballpark to watch the team's equipment loaded for the trip to spring training in Fort Myers, Florida. It's an odd tradition, but one that signals the impending arrival of spring for those who have run out of patience with the ice and snow.
Inside the ballpark, though, winter was still being celebrated.
A light dusting added a touch of natural snow to the tons of man-made stuff that was lifted onto the ramp by a crane and then tamped down by skiers who replaced the tractors typically used for mountain events. "Pretty sick," snowboarder Julia Marino said after she climbed the steps from the Red Sox dugout, pulled out her phone and began shooting video.
A Connecticut native and an alternate for the event, Marino said her father is a New York Yankees fan who is "super-psyched" that she might get the chance to ski at Fenway. "It's insane, really," she said.
The ski ramp is just the latest addition to the ballpark's repertoire. The century-old landmark has been drafted for duty not just for baseball and concerts and football, but also for ice hockey, soccer and - after the college football game last fall - Irish hurling.
Red Sox officials said they were relieved after watching the first snowboarder hit the jump. Organizers had been working on the event for nine months, but they couldn't be sure everything was going to work until the athletes hit the ramp.
Big Air snowboarding will debut as an Olympic sport in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. It is part of an attempt by organizers to tap into a younger demographic with the addition of X Games-style disciplines. Skiers and snowboarders say they hope events like the one at Fenway also help attract a new, bigger audience to their sport.
Putting them in the middle of a city instead of away on a mountain somewhere can't hurt.
"It's just one event. But it's an event on a 150-foot scaffolding in the middle of Fenway Park," said Gus Kenworthy, who took home a slopestyle silver medal and a family of puppies from the Sochi Olympics. "So I think it'll be OK."