Though we continue to grow participation in this country, ski jumping has a major barrier to becoming more mainstream: you can’t ski jump without a jump. Nearly every high school in America has a football field where fans cheer them on under the Friday night lights. Basketball courts abound in cities, towns, rec centers, YMCAs, and schools across our country. Kids can dribble a soccer ball on city streets, dusty parking lots, or manicured fields in nearly every spot around the globe but to become a ski jumper, you need to be able to load your skis on the car and drive to a jump.
In the United States we have 30 ski jumping clubs in 12 states from Alaska to New Hampshire, which is more than most Americans realize. However, it is still tiny by comparison to the hundreds of thousands of facilities available for other sports……but what if instead of relying on athletes within a short drive of a ski jump, we brought ski jumping to where kids are? What if we gave kids who had never even seen skis in their life the opportunity to become a ski jumper? Well, this is exactly what we did in mid-February with the help of US Venture and Titletown in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
USA Luge has used this method of introduction to sport for years with their USA Luge Challenge in the winter and the Slider Search in the summer on wheeled sleds. They travel to cities and towns across America to search for the next National Team members and these searches have not only introduced the sport to tens of thousands of kids, but literally produced multiple Olympians. This is a model that ski jumping could emulate and USA Nordic Sports took the first step in this year’s Title Town Winter Games. US Venture was the title sponsor for the event and with their facilitation, the snowmaking team from Title Town blew a pile of snow big enough to make a three meter jump on a practice field outside of Lambeau, the Packers Stadium. There was not enough snow on the artificial turf to put a snowcat on it, so instead I spent a day shaping the pile by hand, and Titletown installed steps and fencing.
US Venture has a large focus on giving back to the community, and particularly helping marginalized youth, so they partnered with local youth organizations in the Green Bay area like the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother Big Sister, to get youth to the Title Town Winter Games. The Winter Games were also open to the public, with extensive marketing through local news media, resulting in an impressive turnout
Over the course of two days we sent over 1000 kids down the landing hill or off the 3 meter jump. I would say that approximately 90 % of them had never been on skis in their life. There were definitely lots of crashes, but no injuries other than some bumps and bruises and tons of smiles, laughter and screams of joy.
Will we get tons of jumpers out of this? Probably not, but we did have a number of families ask for information about local clubs and a few even looked up information on club programming to see how they could join. However, even if zero kids join a club, thousands of people now know about ski jumping or have ski jumped before. Even more importantly, thousands of kids who would normally never have the chance to try Winter Olympic sports like Luge, Curling, or Biathlon, got the opportunity, and I firmly believe that this is a worthy cause. We never know who the next Olympian might be, and all it could take is one day on a bump jump to spark the interest of a young child.
We are looking forward to next year and this has me even more excited about trying to acquire a traveling ski jump that could go from town to town. We shall see, but ultimately we need to continue to expand opportunity to youth because within our community we know that ski jumping and Nordic combined are amazing, and if we truly believe this, we should try to do everything we can to share these sports with the rest of the world so that more kids have a shot to try them at least once in their life.