Words and photos: Ethan Stone

As I was editing photos the other day, I realized I had a lot of photos of jumps.

This was the first jump I built last season. Tommy E found a plush landing over the crest of this canyon roll in the Timberline backcountry. It ended up being a pretty lofty booter, with the natural shape of the canyon helping to shape the long transition.

Just the jump, I mean. Sure, I also have lots of photos of skiers as they fly off of jumps — that's the main idea, after all. But in every set, there's always that test frame, the set-up shot of just the jump, naked in all its glory.

Crazy to think this was the next thing I shot after that Timberline BC jump: Jump 3 in the Olympic slopestyle course in Sochi, Russia, where I was lucky enough to be sent by this very website to cover the Olympics. Notice the clean cut on the side of the jump—this is how you make your kicker look good.

I realized that I could tell the story of my winter through these jumps: the hand-built ones, the machine-built; the ones I helped build, the ones I photographed.

After the madness of the Olympics, I flipped a full 180 and jumped into an urban shoot in the tiny central European country of Slovenia with Ahmet Dadali and his La Familia crew. This down rail to jump over a hedge to landing in someone's backyard was yet another of Ahmet's crazy urban ideas. Another lesson to be learned: Jumps adapt to their surroundings.

Every jump has its own aesthetic and perfect form, hidden within and revealed by its environment. I remember building jumps with friends as a kid, haphazardly piling up mounds of snow on random slopes, with little regard for details like the angle of the lip and the landing. Those were good days, hucking our meat into the great blue yonder, hopefully with a somewhat soft landing on the other side.

If anyone knows how to appreciate jump aesthetics, it's the Schneestern (Snow Star) crew from Germany that builds the iconic Nine Knights and Nine Queens jumps in Europe. These guys taught me the importance of cutting clean lines. At first I thought they were crazy, spending so much time on clean-cut snow architecture instead of building more skiable transitions. But damn, these guys can build anything you want out of snow - and make it look as fairy-tale as you want. After the Slovenia trip, I got the opportunity to join the Schneestern crew in Italy to built the 2014 Nine Knights feature: two side-by-side castle kickers with a channel gap halfpipe down the middle. Yeah, next level shit.

I'm older now, and my vision of jumps has changed a lot since those heady days as a kid. Then as now, the idea is still to go flying through the air, and a jump doesn't need to look good to achieve that end.

But with every skill, refinement is attainable, and jump-building is no exception. The more perfectly smooth and calculated you carve a transition, the better that jump will ride. And if you take the time to get a clean cut on the sides of the kicker, you're beginning to appreciate the aesthetics of the jump itself - not just the skier flying over it.

Another incredible manifestation of visionary snow shaping: the B&E Inventational course in Les Arcs, France designed by B&E and Scandinavian Shapers. This feature design maximized ride-able area with transitions every way you looked and some very skate-style bowls. I managed to catch the Inventational before leaving Europe to come home from my Olympics/Slovenia/Nine Knights jaunt.

The focus of ski films and photos is usually on the skiing talent of the athlete. Yet the jump-building skills of those involved will play a significant role in the shot that results. Fewer dope tricks will be stomped on a poorly built jump. If you're trying to get published, clean cuts will go a long way. Everything about your shot looks better when you've got a cleanly cut jump, not just a pile of snow out on a mountain somewhere.

Using some ideas and techniques I picked up in Europe, I designed this feature together with Caleb Hamilton of Destoy Labs for the West Coast Session at Timberline Oregon. It combined an 80-foot booter, a 20-foot quarterpipe, a hip landing, and the oddly shaped Tranny Cube (left side of the picture). The design was based partly around a halfpipe hit to opp-tranny hip landing feature I saw at Nine Knights, but it ended up assuming a shape that was uniquely its own. Just wait till you see the 4bi9 footage of Krazy Karl finding mystery tranny.

If it's something you're into, you can put the same level of energy into both jump-building and jump-hitting. At the end of the day, if you put more focus on your feature, refining it and making it look good, you'll be much more satisfied with the result. But it's not necessary or anything. Flying through the air is still the main point.

But goddammit, it's fun to make snow look good.

I was stumbling around in the woods near Timberline this May when I found this 4bi9 feature out on Gypsy Island. The boys had taken some inspiration from the WCS feature and built a few tombstone quarterpipe scultures in odd formations, a veritable maze of landing trannies. Wierd, wild stuff.

It's funny, when I look at a photo of a jump, more than anything else I remember the people I built it with, the people who were there. Building a jump is always something you do with a friend - unless you're one of those über super-motivated people I guess. When you build and hit a nice booter, you're not just skiing - you're spending quality time with your friends, and you're creating a piece of art to boot.

This is a more obscure jump-building approach: jump into a hole. This was the setup I was trying to find when I stumbled on the 4bi9 jump. This was a Traveling Circus build. Ask Ross Imburgia.

Your jump can take on any dimensions you want it to take. You can build a towering castle like Nine Knights. You can build weird shit like the Traveling Circus. Snow is nuts to build with and I can't wait to see what the jump sculptors of the future come up with. It's going to be wild.

Me and Nicky Keefer and his wife Maja built this jump in mid-June in the Mount Hood backcountry. I had grand plans for a Kris Ostness-esque quarterpipe, and we built it up accordingly, but unfortunately this one didn't go off quite as planned. We put a lot of energy into the build and didn't leave much for the session. We could have used a bigger crew to help us build and then slay this beast. There's power in numbers.

Park skiers often under-appreciate the people who put in countless hours to build the features that we later fly over without a care in the world. These are some of the unsung heroes of the whole freestyle movement - the guys out there with cats and shovels, long after the customer has gone home. If you've got a good park crew, appreciate them. If you don't, maybe you should show them this article.

This was another Hood jump in late June, conceived by a Poor Boyz crew of Jasper Newton, Lucas Wachs and Max Morello. Me and Keefer went out and joined them for a day, Keefbox broke both his tails, and Lucas bagged some shots that will probably be showing up in his seggy this fall. The jump looks super gnarly - and it was - but yes, there's a nice soft snowy landing at the top of that rocky slope.

This was a mid-July built at Illumination Rock on Mount Hood with Tommy E. The journey continues.

What jumps wait around the corner for you? I'm sure you've got a spot or two already scoped out.

P.S. I'd be stoked if you want to post pictures of your own beautiful jumps in the comments.