Before the story- a message from Jim to provide some context:
It’s exciting to watch the progress and changes that have occurred in the sport of ski jumping. The equipment and techniques used today; expanded availability of facilities during the summer; training and sponsorships have had a significant impact on the sport. Social media has enabled everyone who may be interested in the sport to follow events around the world. Finally recognizing the talents of women as competitors has been a major factor in expanding the scope of the sport.
My timeframe for skiing competitively was the 1967 through 1974. I lived in Minneapolis where there was a very active development program through the Minneapolis Ski Club. I was part of the National development team for four years. Along the way I completed my education at the University of Minnesota. I had the good fortune to ski with people like Jay and Jerry Martin, Tom Dargay, Jeff Wright, Ron Steele, Greg Swor, Adrian Watt, Greg Windsperger, Dave Tomten, Jim Denney, Jay Rand and many more. Jerry, Greg and I had a regular training schedule that started in July through the beginning of the ski season. The dry land training together served us well. I had the opportunity to ski at Cooper Peak twice; it was a unique experience
When I reflect back on the sport while I competed, there were a number of differences to the sport today. One of the examples…
Before there was…
Before there was a starting bar that replaced starting gates, there was a picnic table. The Westby ski jumping facility was always a highlight of the season. The Snowflake Ski Club was well organized, made skiers feel welcome and often expanded the field by including competitors from Europe and Japan. The design of the Westby 90 meter ski jump was purely focused on rewarded good execution. The in-run on the hill had an excellent transition that helps put a skier in position to take advantage of the speed and air dynamics of hill. As one of the senior skiers used to say, all you had to do was be in the right position, make the right move on the take-off and you were going to be able to ride the natural air pressure on the hill to a good outcome. When conditions were good, it was the best hill in the Central Division circuit and maybe the best hill in North America.
There were years when the temperatures could be very warm or very cold. The competition in 1970 was one of the years when temperatures were warm. An article published on February 26 in “The Times”, the local newspaper in Westby included the following comment:
“It was a beautiful spring-like day in Timber Coulee on Sunday and with the temperatures in the forties, anything but ideal weather for the 47th Annual Snowflake Ski Tournament. The snow on the scaffold was melted by noon. A bucket brigade of about 200 hauled snow to repack the scaffold before the tournament could begin. Because of the cooperation of the fellows who hauled the buckets and packed the scaffold, the tournament opening was delayed only about an hour”
What wasn’t included in the article was that, because of the warm weather the top start didn’t provide sufficient take-off speeds. An additional start was added by installing a picnic table in the box at the top of the in-run. A piece of plywood was nailed in place to connect the edge of the picnic table and the existing in-run. Snow was applied to the plywood. Competitors would put their skis on either side of the picnic table and step into the bindings, step-up on the bench, then the top of the table. The snow on the plywood didn’t last long. By the middle of the first round, it was bare wood. It resulted in more speed, but the starting point for a ride in competition…was a picnic table.
There were also years when it could be very cold. The 1972 Olympic tryouts were held at the Snowflake ski jump on January 15. The temperature, as recorded on the official results for that event, was -25F. Although only one ride was recorded over 300 feet, no picnic tables were used at the top of the scaffold or seen in the spectator areas on that day. No one wanted to be outside.