Ispeming Ski Club
In the summer of 2000, while attending a principal’s conference in Park City, Utah, a bunch of us took an afternoon off to watch ski jumpers as they practiced at the Utah Olympic Park. That was the moment ski jumping made it to my bucket list and literally changed my life.
Eight years later, as superintendent outside Ishpeming, Michigan, a parent asked about hanging posters advertising the Ishpeming Ski Club’s upcoming summer learn-to-ski event at Suicide Bowl. Needless to say, I was the first to arrive at the hill. And after shocking the adults–who I think were convinced it wasn’t going to go well–I pulled on a suit, laced the boots, grabbed some exceptionally long skis, and headed to the top of the 13m hill.
The coach, Oleg Glyvka, helped me overcome my 40 year old fears as I set my skis in the tracks and pushed off. Three weeks later, Oleg told me I was ready to try the 40m, and that we would do that the following week. I was not as confident in my abilities as Oleg, and spent hours over the next few days just sitting on the bar, throwing up in my mouth, and trying to prepare mentally.
Eventually, I made it down the inrun, caught a little air, and landed. It took about 50 jumps on that hill to land without wiping out at the end of the outrun. Thankfully, I never got seriously hurt. I was hooked, however, and found a way to jump nearly every day. In fact, at one point, the club gave me a key so that whenever I could find someone to spot me, I could get some jumps in.
Dale (Froggy) Fredette was one of the guys who regularly met me at the hill so I could practice. It usually only cost me a bottle of diet Mountain Dew. And it wasn’t strange to hear gunshots during those practice sessions, as Froggy used it as an opportunity to practice shooting.
A few years later, my work led me to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I joined the Flying Eagles Ski Club. From there, I was within driving distance of a bunch of jumps–St. Paul, Blackhawk, Iola, Norge to name a few. I came full circle with my original goal in 2016 when I attended the Springer Tournee back in Park City. After that, I mustered the courage to move onto larger hills like the 60m hills at Iola and Blackhawk.
I was especially proud when I jumped the Blackhawk 60m for the first time. While my colleagues were having old fashioneds following a state education conference in Milwaukee, I was at the top of a ski jump. It was ridiculously frigid, dark, and windy. As I scooted out onto the bar, I could feel the whole thing sway. I remember actually feeling safer once my skis were in the tracks and I was headed down the inrun.
As a middle aged guy learning a sport most people learn when young, I have a lot of similar stories seared into my memory. And people who have seen me jump know that I am definitely no expert, and I’ll not likely get as far as I would like. However, even now, not many days pass when I don’t think of something I learned from the sport–such as perseverance, how to overcome fear, how everything is a learning process, and how minor changes can make big differences.