By ANASTASIA PENCHI
Ever dream you could fly?
Come see people who are close to doing just that the weekend of Feb. 3-4 at the 2017 Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament in Westby, which is located about 25 miles southeast of La Crosse on Hwy. 14/61.
Some of the best ski jumpers from all over the world will be skiing down the hill at speeds in excess of 50 mph and flying through the air for hundreds of feet. Their bravery and skill is sure to astonish.
It’s important to dress warm because it’s an outdoor event held during the middle of winter in Wisconsin. Here are five more things to keep in mind if you go:
1. Honk if you like big air.
The Snowflake Ski Jumping Complex has five jumps that range from 10 to 118 meters. The smallest hill is about the height of a school bus if it was perched on its front end. The thought of skiing down a hill that size is scary enough, however, these ski jumping enthusiasts are whipping down the 118-meter hill. That hill is about the height of the first skyscrapers built in New York at the beginning of the 20th. Be amazed by these jumpers, and make sure your car horn works before you go. It’s common practice for spectators to make a lot of noise when they are impressed with jumpers who get really big air.
2. Olympians could be there.
This event has been held since 1923 and tradition dictates there are likely to be world-class ski jumpers there, as well as the possibility of past or future Olympic champions. The 1948 Olympic champion Peter Haugstad participated in the competition the year after he earned the gold medal. The U.S. Olympic team trained there in 1952 and 1960. Ski jumpers have come from at least 15 different countries in the past, and Norway always seems to represent.
3. Learn the terms and see the footage.
Ski jumpers are not only judged on the distance they jump, but also on style and technique. Typically, there are five judges scoring the participants, and the highest and lowest scores are thrown out. You can learn the rules and terminology, and also see some black and white video footage from the 1956 competition, on the Snowflake Ski Club Web site. The wipe outs are brutal, and they weren’t even using the 118 meter hill yet. The men and women crouch at the top of this huge hill, ski down it fast and then thrust forward at the bottom in order to “take off.” The Web site says jumpers need trust and “a bit of bravery” to succeed. I’d say they need more than a bit of bravery. How about a boat-load? Maybe the size of those double barges that travel the Mississippi River in the summer?
4. They can make it snow.
Worried about the weather? Don’t be. This community makes things happen, and that includes creating fake snow if it’s needed. Determination is in the blood of the people of Westby. In 1922, when community members first decided they should have a ski jump competition due to the area’s Norwegian heritage, they discovered they couldn’t afford to buy the necessary metal ski jump scaffolding. Rather than be dissuaded, they purchased 1 x 4’s and 1 x 6’s and built it themselves out of wood. And when there were no hotels nearby to house the visiting international skiers, community members opened up their homes to them, and continue to do so to this day. Every year volunteers raise money, plan the event, staff the event and groom and maintain the hills. You can volunteer, too, as long as you are at least 19.
5. Come fly with us.
Do you have a daredevil in your house who needs a sport that will channel and fulfill those risk-taking urges? Ski jumping is considered by many to be the original extreme sport, and locals are welcome to come try it, too. The Snowflake Ski Club holds a junior competition every January. For $150, those interested in learning to jump (any age) can join the club, use club equipment and get coached so they can fly down those outrageous hills. Maybe your dream will come true after all.
To learn more official ski jumping terms or volunteer to help with future ski jumping events, visit the Snowflake Ski Club Web site at www.snowflakeskiclub.com.