Don West was an exceptionally positive force in ski jumping for as long as I can remember. I first met him, fittingly, at the top of a ski jump. Specifically, the old Olympic hill in Lake Placid (K76?). I was 15 at the time and had never been off a “big” hill. I’d been dragged to Lake Placid with my family to watch my younger brother, Brad, compete on the 40m in the J3 (U14) Eastern junior championships. It was a bluebird day and after the competition Brad and a couple of the other top finishers were invited to try the Olympic jump. I had packed my equipment for just such an opportunity and joined them at the base of the hill where I was immediately un-selected by a Pompous Local Official. I was already nervous about jumping so big a hill and, while humiliated, was ready to put my skis back in the car. Long/short my father intervened and begrudgingly the PLO let me head up- what little confidence I had initially carried, completely evaporated.
In retrospect, I imagine Don had seen the whole thing play out and “by chance” was waiting for us when we arrived nervously at the top. It was 1974, five years post Woodstock, but hippies still a thing. Was Don a hippie? Who knew, but with his beard, long hair, and mellow presence he was clearly the coolest cat any of us had ever encountered. And the perfect sage. He delivered a subtle mix of instruction and confidence, then told us that he’d wait for us at the bottom and to “have a good one.” I will always feel blessed to have been so wondrously indoctrinated to the “big” hills.
Don traveled many paths and was many things to many people in the ski jumping world; his death this past August was an enormous loss to the community. He loved anything that brought ski jumpers together which by default meant I could count on him for a story or two every year. What follows is a story that Don got to me late last year.
|THE TRESTLE ON THE OLD HILL IN BELOIT, WI was “luxuriously wide” and eventually moved to Westby, WI.|
Age 77 (deceased)
Blackhawk Ski Club, Brattleboro Outing Club, Lake Placid/NYSEF
Westby’s big hill tower stood first on a bluff overlooking the Rock River in Beloit Wisconsin. Anybody who has experienced that tower knows that it is luxuriously wide.
I jumped the old Beloit ‘Big Hill’ just one day in 1955, its last year of operation. I don’t recall any other Blackhawk skiers competing that day. I was 17 years old and had a driver’s license but still my mother drove me the 60 miles from Madison to Big Hill Park in Beloit in our 1941 Chevrolet.
Saturday had been very warm and the jumpers wore a deep track in the wet snow on the inrun. The weather changed overnight and Sunday was cold. When we arrived, the inrun was like a rock, with that deep track still in the tower, but apparently there were problems with the old track, bumpy, crooked, or whatever. Late in the morning, the skiers decided that they needed to take out the old track and set a new one.
All the available rakes and shovels were put to work as the skiers themselves chipped away at the hard icy snow. It was a big job even with a dozen or more workers hacking away, then being replaced by fresh hands and arms. After perhaps a half hour, somehow one of the skiers waiting up on the tower mistook a signal and kicked out of the top and started down the in-run, thinking that he had been flagged to go. Imagine his shock when he saw five or more guys still hacking away at the track down in the curve.
These were the days of hickory jumping skis with no hard edges of any sort, but what was he to do? The skier wasted no time wondering — as quickly as he could, he turned his skis sideways right there on that steep, icy inrun and skidded to a stop. You would swear that his skis were making sparks! On any narrower tower this would have been impossible but on Beloit’s wide in-run he pulled it off and we all lived happily ever after. Surely the ski jumping gods were watching over us that day!
|DON WEST (no. 5) WITH HIS BELOVED FELLOW MASTERS- (L-R) Doug Maki, Tom Moore, Don, Joe Berens, Patrick Kruegel, Tom Ricchio, Tim Denisson.|