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Itasca Ski Club, Coleraine, Minnesota
First things first. I’ve never jumped before. Well maybe once, during an end of the season slush cup, I may have come dressed as the sun. And I may have jumped off the 10m and I may have made the announcer report the distance in centimeters because 300 sounds so much better than three. Honestly, in reality, I am no jumper. I prefer the safety of angles and slippery surfaces. I am hill crew.
My evolution started as most parents do, a son or daughter starts jumping after attending “Learn to Ski Jump Day” during holiday break. I knew nothing about the sport except what I saw on television. I soon found that it’s damn cold outside doing nothing but watching a bunch of kids go up hills just to go down them again. How to stay warm for two hours? Do some work. Rake the falls. Encourage the kids. Be a traffic cop on the POMA lift. Tie boot laces. Sub for the flagger. I learned to make myself useful. Pretty soon I was invited to help sweep out inruns after a snow, and rebuild them after a melt. All was going fine and then came the season finale.
The last Central Division junior meet of the year is typically in Coleraine because we are so far north it seems we always have snow. In 2010 we hosted the Masters Championships along with our junior competition and that’s how I got to meet older jumpers like Joe Berens, Patrick Kruegel, Tom Ricchio and Don West. The day of competition was absolutely gorgeous – a bluebird day if there ever was one. The air temps hit 36 degrees under a bright sun and the jumps were mostly shaded. The hill record for the 20m fell that day when both Berens and Ricchio landed at 24m. I was marking distances and saw some awesome jumping.
But the kids! Starting Friday night they came with their families from everywhere like this was some sort of weekend destination. And oh my, were they having fun. All day Saturday and the first few hours of Sunday a stream of kids on the hills. No one was too cold to jump and every one of them was at their best after a full season of practice and competitions. At some point on Sunday morning I took a moment, stood in front of the junior chalet and tried to take it all in; the constant movement of skiers up the POMA, jumping on four different hills, schussing on the outrun, skiing back to the POMA, the laughter, the smells of concessions, the endless row of colorful skis against the chalet. And it dawned on me that I really, really, really enjoyed playing a part in physically preparing the hills just for this day. I was hooked.
In subsequent years my son joined the travel team and we would spend hours on the weekends driving and jumping. He made new friends and so did I. On the visitors’ hills I would lend a hand if needed and mark distances during competitions because that’s what I do. At home I learned the intricacies of snowing in inruns and cutting track on our 40m and 70m hill (affectionately called “Big Ole”) and I have been involved in the time honored hill crew tradition of reworking and tweaking hill prep. I know some would call this folly and frankly a colossal waste of time but in addition to flat out enjoying myself I have met some wonderfully generous people who work in the shadows and ask for very little in return. In my mind this is the true definition of ‘volunteer’. For welcoming me into this elite group I am eternally grateful and to hill crew members past, present and future – I salute you.