The start house isn't much of a house, more like a concrete box perched high on the mountain.

Five women arrive on this frosty morning, setting their skis down outside and pushing through the door, rubbing their hands in the cold. They take turns leaning close to a heater, asking: "Is this thing working?"

Their complaints soon give way to chatter, as if the room might be warmed by voices echoing off bare walls, by talk of grocery shopping and friends and the contents of a thermos someone brought.

"Is it really hot cider?"

The start house has been their second home since they were girls, a place where these misfits could feel accepted. Even now, as adults, they consider it a haven.

Lindsey Van, the oldest one, explains: "There's no way you could do this by yourself."

They tug at the laces on their stiff leather boots and tighten the straps on their helmets. Just outside, a few paces away, waits an Olympic-sized ski jump.

Women were traditionally discouraged from clicking on skis and flying off the end of a steep ramp. Sports officials considered it too dangerous for them.

The women who train in Park City — members of the U.S. national team — have spent a decade fighting that notion. Next month, they will join competitors from around the world as female jumpers make their Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"People call you a pioneer or a barrier breaker," Van says. "But that's not what you're thinking about when you're doing it."


A thick metal bar runs across the top of the jump, about knee-high. Jessica Jerome slides across it, finding just the right spot to sit.

If Van tends to be reticent, Jerome is her opposite with a quick wit and sharp tongue. But this is no time for talking. After a moment's pause to collect her thoughts, she gently rocks and pushes off.

With her skis fixed into grooves down the sheer in-run, speed comes almost instantly. A balanced crouch works best but is difficult to maintain against strong G-forces.

The team's coach, Alan Alborn, watches from a nearby platform.

"When you're cruising down that thing at 60 miles an hour, the brain is saying, 'This isn't safe. I shouldn't be doing this,'" he says. "You have to fight through that."

The track levels off at the very end, giving Jerome only a tenth of a second to spring up and jump. With skis rattling and a whoosh of air, she sounds like a small plane at liftoff.

Her body becomes a type of wing as she leans over her ski tips and sails through the air, feeling the wind's pressure against her skintight suit. Her arms angle back.

"I'm trying to look farther than I want to go," she says. "We call it 'pulling.'"

And one more thing: "If it's really far, I'm thinking about how much my knees are going to hurt when I land."