Kennett High School, North Conway, NH
National HS Ski Jumping Champion and Coach of National Ski Jumping HS Champions
Twenty-one years have passed since I took my last flight off a ski jump. Throughout my teenage years, it felt like this amazing sport was the reason I existed. Achieving greatness was never a priority for me and my good friend Mark Levasseur said it best, “Nobody had more fun than me!”
I could write a book of the memories I have from ski jumping, maybe even more than one. Here’s one of many:
Back in 1994, I was 18 years old and fortunate enough to live in Rovaniemi, Finland for a few months. Most of my friends were heading off to college and my parents wanted me to go badly, hoping it would help me be a productive member of society someday. At the time I was having way too much fun ski jumping to take a direction in life like that very seriously. Sitting through lectures sounded like torture.
I stayed in Finland with my buddy Antti Niemela and his family. They took me into their home and treated me like I was one of their own. I memorized their home phone number and street address, just in case of an emergency. I remember both to this day. I soon found my way to the Ounasvaara Ski Club. It was October 1st and they were prepping the HS100 in-run with snow.
The Finns are wonderful folks. They taught me the important nuances of their very difficult language, like how to count to 10, order beers and how to compliment girls on their good looks. We jumped every evening and if the skies were clear, the northern lights would set the backdrop of the training session. I had an absolute blast!
In 2017, I traveled back to Finland to see Antti and his family. The ski jumps at Ounasvaara hadn’t changed much and they looked exactly the same way I remembered. Jukka Ylipulli was grooming the landing hill as Antti and I walked towards the stairs. He was doing the exact same thing when I first arrived 23 years earlier. I also brought Liz with me. She had been following me around for a few years at this point.
It was extremely cold. The jumping facility is located about 1 km north of the Arctic Circle and it was the middle of February. I was determined to climb the tower, maybe relive a few memories from my youth. After meeting with Jukka briefly, Antti, Liz, and I climbed up the landing hill. It was the only way to stay warm! When we arrived at the knoll, I noticed the staircase that used to spiral up the center of the tower had been replaced by an elevator. We soon found out the elevator was closed and my heart sank. I’d been planning a trip to the top for quite some time and never considered the thought of closure.
Fortunately for us, an aluminum extension ladder was left near the takeoff. Antti set it in place and we proceeded to make Liz take the 15-foot climb first. I could tell she was uncomfortable. From the takeoff, the views of Rovaniemi are spectacular. From the top, they are even better.
We made our way up the tower, climbing along the side of the 260-foot in-run. These steps were probably only ever used when maintaining the frost rail track. As we got closer to the top, I noticed Liz clinging to the railing just below the bottom start platform. She looked like she was holding on for dear life. If you look closely you can see her doing this in the picture, below.
Antti was snapping pictures like we were tourists on vacation for the first time! I yelled down to Liz and told her to keep climbing. It didn’t seem like she wanted to move and I was a little worried about her freezing in place. I think the temps that day were around -15 degrees F. Antti told her that she didn’t have to come any higher if she wasn’t comfortable. I got a little anxious and told him why she needed to come to the top. He went down and helped her up to the first big step to the start platforms. Once she arrived at the top, I gave her my Grandmother’s (and my Mother’s) diamond ring. I forgot to get on one knee. I was nervous!