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There are some sports that are great to take up later in life, i.e. golf, shuffleboard and curling. Ski jumping probably doesn’t make that list. Growing up in Breckenridge Colorado afforded me all sorts of skiing opportunities. As a state champion in Nordic skiing both my junior and senior years of high school, All American and 2nd place finish at Junior Nationals, you could say that cross country skiing was my sport. I loved racing and it fulfilled my competitive spirit and desire to push my body. What I also loved was catching air on skis, and I fulfilled this desire by looking for jumps at the ski area. As a young kid I followed the career of my neighbor, Pat Ahern, to the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Watching him jump in Steamboat Springs planted a seed in my heart and a desire to fly like him, but my home and life was in a place that lacked a jumping facility.
When I graduated high school in 96’, I had a decision to make. Should I take a skiing scholarship and go to Western State University, or should I move to Steamboat Springs and see if I could become a ski jumper. I choose the latter. Many would say that a 19 year kid who wants to start ski jumping is about 10 years too late. Fortunately for me, I didn’t know any better. I was actually encouraged in my pursuit of more air on skis. My dad thought it would be a great “controlled environment” for me to fulfill my desire to put more and more daylight between me and the ground.
In the fall of 1996 I moved to Steamboat Springs and started my career as a Nordic combined skier. Gary Crawford and Todd Wilson at the Winter Sports Club took me in and put me on jump skis. They started me out small and guided me through the fundamentals of ski jumping. My first experience on a ski jump was shared with my 9 year old peers as I stood on top of a daunting giant. The 30 meter jump hill below me awaited my awkward approach on my 250 cm yellow and black Rossignol skis with cable bindings. Once I had exhausted that hill, I moved to the 50 meter, and so on. By March, I was jumping the big hill and flying over 110 meters (over 360 ft.).
After that first season, I was fortunate enough to be counted as a promising Nordic combined skier, and they put me on the “Blob” team. This was a group of about 8 young athletes that were identified as the next up and coming group of skiers. From there I was able to train year round and I competed in my first World Cub B in 1997. My top finishes were a 5th and 6th place in the World Cup in Steamboat Springs in 2001 and 4th place in the team event in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
Not every ski jumper’s path to flying on skis is the same, and I am a living testimony that you don’t need to start at 7 to fly through the air on skis. Sometimes all it takes is really wanting to do something, a little luck and then working hard to make it happen.
Look at this motley crew at the top of the Old Holmenkollen! Pictured from left to right: Bard Elden, Johnny Spillane, Carl Van Loan, Matt Dayton, Billy Demong, Kristoffer Erichsen.World Cup B team in Lake Placid, NY circa, 1999. Matt is in the back row second from the left.