Winter Athlete Profile: Mike Wilson the Skiing, Rope Swinging, Base Jumping Physics Genius

Posted By: The Ski Channel on November 4, 2011 12:17 am

Written by Nina Pantic

Mike Wilson, professional freestyle skier and rope swing jumper extraordinaire, is notorious for launching himself off a 99-foot rope swing into the Truckee River at Tahoe. The first question that comes to mind is why not jump a clean, rounded 100 feet?! Turns out that an unbelievable amount of science goes into Wilson’s swing jumps and lucky for extreme sports, he’s a self-proclaimed science geek. Not only does this guy jump off cliffs and ski absurdly, well but he’s a physics genius on top of it…ladies, eat your hearts out.

Wilson started skiing at 2 years old and is an absolutely silly master of freeskiing. Recognized as a leader of the freeskiing movement, he even has his own revolutionary trick, the “Wilsonflip”, comprising of an off axis double-flipping rotation. Despite all the success on the snow, Wilson admits, “A lot of people know me as a pro skier but there’s a lot of people around here (Tahoe) who know me as a rope swinger.”

What is it about swinging off trees like Tarzan that gets this guy so amped up? It’s not just the adrenaline rush or the physical prowess involved (as flipping does help his freestyle skiing training) but there’s the thrill of science! Wilson logs hours into figuring out his jumps and decreases the obvious risks with the use of math and physics. Besides using a range finder and 300-foot measuring tape, Wilson considers jump trajectory and even the surface tension of salt water versus fresh water (details, details, details!).

On site of the handmade 99-foot swing at Tahoe’s Truckee River, Wilson first swam around a little bit to get a feel of the water’s depth. Next, about 15 feet from the water edge he put a cable on 2 smaller trees and pulled the cable across to a taller tree. With 360 pounds of pressure on the cable tensioner, Wilson then successfully predicted that swinging out against the trees would cause them to pull in and then as he would pass the focal point directly below the cable, the trees would pull out and create more height instead of distance. Wilson says, “A lot of people laugh at me when they say that I did out the math and calculated how to build a rope swing”, but we’re definitely not laughing because it’s hard to laugh with your mouth wide open in awe.

Take a look for yourself at Wilson’s 99-foot quadruple backflip rope swing jump:


While most people that catch a glimpse of Wilson flying and flipping right out of the trees may think he is completely nuts, others have to sit back and respect the guts and brilliance behind it. Johnny Decesare combines both opinions as he says, “Wilson…(laughter) he’s totally crazy, but in the best of ways. He knows exactly what he wants to do, he’s calculated. He just does things that other people would think are crazy; to him it’s totally normal. He’s got it pretty wired.”

He’s actually got it literally wired. Not only does this guy have his calculations down straight but he pulls off backflips, cork 3s and 7s, and spinning double flips and triples in the air while free falling into the icy, blue water below. Wilson’s cameraman, Conor Tourkamine reflects, “One of the cool things about working with Mike is watching him get in the zone and figure out how to do something.” Tourkamine also admits that he’s scared for Wilson’s life every time he sees him at the top of one of his man-made rope swings, but knows that Wilson is probably more concerned over figuring out how to implement a parachute.

It’s clear that Wilson is the frontrunner of the rope swinging sport (as well as the hero) as he blends BASE jumping, skydiving, and freestyle skiing. He continues to push the boundaries of extreme sports every time he pops out of the water after a jump looking fresh with a huge smile on his face.

If you’re eager to see more of Wilson (and who wouldn’t be?), he’s featured in The Ski Channel’s upcoming film “Winter”. See the trailer for “Winter” right now: