I’m enjoying (and surviving) my second winter here in Westby, WI, a small town of 2,200 people with Norwegian roots. There are plenty of wonderful winter activities to pursue in the area, such as playing hockey, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, but for me, the height of winter activities is Westby’s annual Ski Jump Competition. The Snowflake Ski Club located in the Timber Coulee, just north of town, has a 118 meter Olympic-size ski jump as well as four “smaller” jumps for juniors and training. Even the shortest, 10 meters, jump looks intimidating!
This year, Snowflake hosted its 92nd annual International Ski Jumping Tournament, attracting competitors from across the US and abroad. Past winners include jumpers from Norway, Finland, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, and the Czech Republic, among other countries. It seems like the whole town turns out for the event that starts Friday night under the lights. The atmosphere is festive as people crowd around two huge bonfires, one conveniently located near the bar.
An ATV transports the competitors from the warming hut to the top of the hill. From there, they carry their skis up the stairs of the ramp, which is called the inrun if you know the lingo. At the top of the inrun, each jumper slides out onto the bar start to place their skies in the tracks. Then, they push off from a seated position and remain tucked to gain as much speed as possible.
Watching these brave jumpers at night under the lights is truly magical!
Each competitor jumps twice, and each jump counts toward his total score. The Friday night competition is actually the 6th hill of the 8 hill series in the US Cup. The winner of the Westby Hill in this 2014/2015 US Cup series is Anselmi Ilola of Team Finland. This is the Senior division that competes for the US Cup, but two other divisions compete as well – U20 (under 20 years of age) and Masters (over 30 years). Andrew Urlaub, of Flying Eagles Ski Club in Eau Claire, wins the U20 division, and David Edlund, of the St. Paul Ski Club, takes first for the Masters.
The competition continues on Saturday for the Snowflake Invitation with all three divisions again. The crowds return to watch these amazing daredevils. Many spectators bring their grills and coolers along to tailgate and hang out with friends all day.
Ilola, again, takes first place for the Seniors. You might surprised to know that distance is not the only factor that decides the winner. The score reflects both objective (distance) and subjective (style, or technique) criteria. There are five judges who sit in a tall, Norwegian-style tower overlooking the landing zone of the hill. Each judge can award up to 20 points for technique, with the top and bottom scores discarded. Thus, the maximum total received for technique would be 60 points, with each judge awarding 20 points.
The markers stand below the tower, noting the distances that the jumpers reach on their landings. The point at which the steepest part of the hill ends and begins to flatten out is called the “K” point (in German, “Kritical”). It is designated by two red lines running down both sides of the landing. The “K” point on the hill can be thought of as “par” for distance scoring, and jumpers try to land past “K”. The competitor would automatically get 60 points for landing right at the “K” point. Say a jumper landed twice at “K”, that would mean an automatic 120 points for distance, and more distance earns more points (Snowflakeskiclub.com).
To get a better view, we always like to climb the hill to watch from above. If you are at all cold, climbing these stairs will surely warm you up!
From here, we can actually see the skiers zipping down the inrun. The jumper tucks in and leans forward to gain speed. The take-off is just as much about timing as it about . Just before the end of the inrun, the jumper must transition from the tucked, inrun position, to the flight position as efficiently, powerfully, and gracefully as possible. If he jumps a split second too soon or too late, his take-off will negatively affect his distance.
After take-off, the jumper flies through the air striving to hold that perfect flight position. A good flight position has a jumper with the head up, arms at the side of the body, a little forward bend at the waist, legs locked, and ankles cocked up to put the skis in a “V” shape (Snowflakeskiclub.com). The V creates a larger surface area for the jumpers to get lift. This “V” position, formed by the skis in flight, wasn’t actually used until 1985 by a Swedish jumper, Jan Bokloev. Traditionally skis were carried parallel and in front or to the side of the body during the air flight (Snowflakeskiclub.com).
Finally, the most suspenseful part of the jump is the landing. You may witness a few crash and slide-to-the-bottom landings, but, usually, no injuries. Some competitors go for the “Telemark Landing” which allows him to elegantly transition from the flight position to the ground. The telemark came about in the early days of ski jumping when jumpers used boots that were cut low in the back, and they’d have to throw one foot forward to keep their balance (Snowflakeskiclub.com).
At the bottom of the hill, the slow down zone looks fairly large, but these jumpers reach speeds over 50 miles per hour. Needless to say, they use the entire landing strip.