It’s one of the most addicting Winter Olympic sports: a man or woman climbs to the top of a massive ramp. They then hoist themselves onto a small bench in the middle of a track consisting of two long grooves. They clip on their skis and put them in the tracks. When the all-clear is given, they accelerate down the ramp. Liftoff.
Originating in Norway in the late 1800’s, ski jumping was brought to North America a few years later. It was added to the Olympics in 1924 and has only grown in popularity ever since. Women teams became established in the 1900’s, entering high levels in 2004. After waiting far too long, women’s ski jumping was added to the Olympics in 2014.
But does it require skill? As you might expect, it’s a lot harder than it looks. After following the aforementioned process, the skier jumps at the end of the ramp and typically positions himself in a V-style: skis pointing outward in the front like a “V,” body leaning forward and parallel to the skis, and arms pointed straight back and parallel. This allows for maximum distance.
The next step is key. Ski jumpers then glide majestically to their target: the construction point, or “k-point.” On their way, conditions are a big factor: wind and snow can greatly impact the jump. Even a ski jumper’s suit plays a part: FIS, the governing body for skiing, keeps a strict 2 centimeter tolerance requirement related to body measurement. In other words, the suit cannot stretch out more than 2 cm from the body while in motion. This is to avoid any drag, intentional or unintentional, that may help the jumper glide longer and thus unfairly score higher. After touchdown, a panel of judges evaluates the jumper on distance, style, and other factors to determine the winner.
But that’s not a Jersey thing, right? Wrong. Although there are, sadly, no ski jumps in the state today, New Jersey has a bit of a history with them. I touched base with Elizabeth Holste, who’s written on the subject and runs the Facebook page, “New Jersey Ski Jumps,” which she updates with timeless photos of our ski jumping glory days.
In the 1950’s, ski jumps were crude wooden structures, and paled in comparison to the huge towers on TV today. Unfortunately, liability issues and high insurance costs caused the sport’s gradual decline in the state. The last ski jump in New Jersey closed in the late sixties. The most popular one, at Craigmeur Ski Area, was greatly enjoyed by the teams that used it.
Speaking of which, if you want to give ski jumping a try, you’ll have to join a team. Your best bet is in Lake Placid, New York. Until then, we’ll both enjoy watching this thrilling sport, jump after jump, in action in the Winter Olympics and beyond.