Flying High: Ski Jumping is Alive and Well in New England
Posted January 27th, 2009
Tara Geraghty Moats of West Fairlee, VT, flying at the 2008 Eastern Ski Jumping Championships in Salisbury, CT. Photo by Tom Dodds.
Vermont and New Hampshire have an impressive tally of residents who have participated in Olympic sports. With the exception of bob-sledding, these two states have public access to every sport represented during the winter games, including ski jumping, a sport where Vermonters and New Hampshire-ites have excelled.
Prior to 1979, there were more ski jumping hills in Vermont than alpine ski areas. Now there are just a handful, and many speculate this dramatic decline is because the NCAA dropped the sport from scholarship status when jumping’s popularity began to wane. Before it was dropped, ski jumping was a potential ticket to a free college education, but these days, after high school, a jumper either makes it into the National team system or stops jumping altogether. Without scholastic support, money dried up and jumps were taken down. A good example of an abandoned ski jump can be found behind Oxbow High School in Bradford, VT. The old earthen jump inrun has a disc golf basket at the base, and players launch discs off the staging area at the top.
Though the number of students jumping has dropped, the sport has not died. Even without NCAA support, jumping is growing in popularity and is considered by many as the original extreme ski sport. Internationally, American woman are considered the top jumpers and the ones to beat. Many of the U.S. women started jumping right here in the twin states, where ski jumping clubs and competitions are alive and well, thanks to diehard clubs and coaches. New Hampshire is the only New England state where high schools have jumping teams, and towns in the Connecticut River Valley have enough clubs and jumpers to host a meet every weekend from January through March.
Learn to Fly
Does the idea of flying hundreds of feet through the air thrill or scare you? For many, the thought of launching themselves off a 30-foot-high jump on skis can be intimidating, to say the least. Images of Vinko Bogataj (Bo-ga-tie), the jumper who became famous in the 1970s on ABC’s Wide World of Sports for a moment of spectacular failure may haunt their thoughts. But Tom Dodds, head jumping coach at the Ford Sayre Ski program of the Upper Connecticut River
Valley, insists jumping is both thrilling and safe.
“From the top of our 32-meter hill, jumpers are in the air for two to three seconds and are traveling right around 30 miles an hour, which is slower than most people ski recreationally,” says Dodds. “There are fewer serious injuries among jumpers than alpine skiers. Most crashes result in bruised egos and you will find very few competitive jumpers with zippers (healed stitch lines) on their knees. It might look crazy, but jumping is relatively safe,” he adds.
Novice jumpers begin their training by skiing the outrun or landing hill of a very small jump—2 or 3 meters—using alpine skis. Because the skis are on the snow and not in the air, the speed attained is similar to what will be encountered during an actual jump. When they are comfortable on the outrun, they head to the top of the ramp, or inrun, and go for it. As skill and confidence grow, the athlete moves to bigger jumps, getting acquainted with the hill by skiing the outrun just as they did when starting out.
The Ford Sayre program likes to start jumpers in the fourth grade and has, on occasion, had second grade boys and girls using the smaller jumps. A 2- or 3-meter jump is little more than a bump at the end of the inrun. The size of the jump is measured as the distance the best jumper should travel from the lip of the inrun to the landing.
“The basics of jumping are learned fairly quickly, but it takes years to perfect the actual jump and learn to fly the hill,” notes Dodds. “In most seasons, a skier might make 200 jumps. With each jump lasting three seconds in the air, an entire season has less than ten minutes of actual practice. Kids are also more willing to commit to the jump than adults,” he notes.
Safety of the athletes is paramount to the survival of any sport. To protect the jumper, each landing hill is shaped to closely match the trajectory of the athlete. Under-jumping the landing hill nets a low score. Over-jumping can result in a very hard landing and serious injury. To help prevent over-jumps, the starting point on the ramp is chosen to control take-off speed. The athlete does not just ski off the end of the ramp, which drops 8 to 10 degrees from horizontal. In order to gain distance, skiers actually jump up and out, launching themselves into the space ahead of the ramp.
Jason Densmore was a junior national champion in Nordic combined in 1969 and is now a volunteer with the Ford Sayre Ski Club. He is also the father of a junior jumper. He describes the take-off like this: “Leaning into the punch is super thrilling—launching yourself into the air. Jumping the 120-meter hill at Lake Placid is spectacular and lots of fun.”
You won’t find a rack full of jumping skis at your local ski shop. Instead, jumping clubs own most of the equipment and loan it to their members. Typical skis have no sidecut or metal edges and are very lightweight for their size. Most are about six inches wide and very long. A six-foot tall jumper might use 250 centimeter-long skis, depending on his or her weight. Boots are very similar to the old leather lace-up telemark boots, and the uniform is more like a wetsuit than the sleek Lycra skin suits worn by Nordic or alpine racers. All of the gear must meet strict measurements to comply with the jumper’s weight and body dimensions.The largest jump used by high school programs is 38 meters. When jumping a larger hill, the athlete must have flying skills in addition to a powerful release at the lip of the ramp.
“After 40 meters, the jumper is in the air long enough that flying style really matters,” explains Dodds. “The ability to read the air and remain stable during the jump really affects the distance. Form in the air and a good telemark landing help the score.”
“The judge looks for in-flight stability, symmetry, a good tele landing, and control of the outrun. Typically, three judges award up to 20 points each. Fortunately, you can’t jump very far with poor technique so the judging is really a tie breaker,” Dodds adds. “The winner of a jumping meet has the highest combination of score and distance jumped in meters.”
The best way to become acquainted with ski jumping is to attend a training event or, better yet, a competitive meet. The jumpers you meet will share their enthusiasm. With Vermont and New Hampshire’s reputation for developing world-class jumpers, there is a good chance you will spend a few moments with a future Olympian.
There are two ski jumping clubs in the Upper Valley: Ford Sayre and Lebanon Outing Club. They host a total of four training nights a week, December through March, depending on conditions. For more information on learning to jump and to find the closest facility, visit www.skijumpeast.com and www.fordsayre.org.
WHERE TO WATCH
Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattlebro, VT, is the only 98-meter ski jump in New England and one of only six in the U.S. of its size and caliber. Harris Hill is currently undergoing an extensive renovation in order to continue its reputation as a first-class ski jumping venue. They will host their 85th ski jumping competition on February 14-15, 2009. www.harrishillskijump.org.
The Eastern Nordic Kids Festival (formerly the Bill Koch League Festival) is hosted by the Lebanon Outing Club and takes place at the Storrs Hill Ski Area in Lebanon, NH, on February 28, 2009. For more information call the Outing Club at 603-448-4409.
Kevin Brooker lives in Post Mills, VT, and until now, tries the activities he writes about. He’s currently searching for the… courage… to jump the 2-meter hill at the Ford Sayre Outing Club.