Ski Jumping is a sport with a rich history. It seems like every competition I go to is the “Oldest….something.” And those somethings are impressive, like the first competitive ski competition in the United States, or the oldest ski club in America. After all, we are the #originalextremesport and, being a Nordic discipline, our sport predates the fixed heel disciplines, let alone anything with the prefix “Big” or suffix “cross.” As you look around the country the dates of clubs are often in the late 1800s or early 1900s and many of the names would be recognizable by coaches flagging athletes over 50 years ago: Denney, Tokle, and Maki, just to name a few. And thank goodness for this. These names continue to be the lifeblood of our sport.
It is precisely the phenomenon described above that makes what is happening more than 3,000 miles from the birth places of Ski Jumping in America so surprising and extra-ordinary. Compton and Murray are not names familiar to Ski Jumping historians. And against all odds they have managed to double-handedly take a club in Alaska from four skiers in 2010 to the second largest club in the country.
So how did they find the athletes? The last five years Team Alaska has invited USA Nordic and Women’s Ski Jumping Staff and athletes to come up and help them recruit. They have flown us up their using frequent flyer miles and put us up while we are there, and I have had the privilege of going the last two years. This year Abby Ringquist returned for the third time, which was awesome. Kids need heroes and it was so cool to see their eyes light up when we told them that Abby would likely be in the Olympics this year. While there, we used the Physical Education Class Recruitment Program, which can be found here. Each year we have visited 4-6 schools and reached over 300 kids, sometimes as many as 500. The recruiting rotates elementary schools to broaden the reach, but targets schools in Anchorage that are close to the jump. This year, Karen Compton had already received multiple calls about the program before Abby and I had left town, which is great. But maybe even more importantly, nearly 300 kids now know about ski jumping, and though this cannot necessarily be quantified by conversion rate to ski jumping, the community is becoming aware of our sport. Every year more and more kids raise their hands when we ask if they have ever seen the ski jumps by Hill Top Ski Area. Awareness, enthusiasm, and participation are infectious and the word continues to spread. Team AK also is raising awareness in many other ways including local year round features on TV, radio, and in print. They also attend events put on by Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage and Fast and Female in addition to others.
[supsystic-gallery id=27 position=center]
In my opinion, in many ways the growth of Alaskan Ski Jumping is happening because Karen and Vivienne do not come from a lineage of Ski Jumpers that goes back 100 years. Since there was really no one at the club to show them the ropes when they started they didn’t know what they didn’t know, so they were able take novel approaches. When they needed athletes they went to where the kids are. When they needed a coach, they contradicted what other ski disciplines were doing in the area and went and got not one but two coaches to move to Alaska to coach and paid both of instead of just relying on volunteer coaches. When people said you will never be able to raise the money to put plastic on the jumps, they got a lobbyist and convinced the Alaska state legislature to allocate $1,000,000 to the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage. When the common wisdom in today’s day and age is that parents just won’t volunteer and you can’t get them involved, their work parties often are include dozens of parents. And the list goes on.
The Result: Four hills with brand new plastic, two certified coaches, over 90 athletes, kids making progress, and happy parents. I attribute this to five main factors:
- Good communication with parents
- Enthusiasm and innovation
- High quality, paid coaches
- Creating a community that had fun both on the hill and off the hill
- Grant writing and a fee structure that allows them to pay coaches and do facility upgrades
The point of this article is not to imply that other clubs are not doing amazing things, because they are, and I see it as I travel all over the country and have written about it in past articles like this one and this one in addition to others. The point is we all could benefit from taking a fresh look at things and make sure we are not doing what we have always done even if it is not working and even more importantly make sure we don’t limit what is possible because of the history of our clubs and see the possibility to take things to the next level. This includes me.
By Jed Hinkley