Cooper Dodds: Jumper

Published on 10/30/ 2019
Reporting on the 1932 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, E.B. White wrote “why ski jumpers jump at all is a mystery.” Most people write the impulse off as madness and leave it at that. But jumpers know all it takes is one beautiful flight for the veil of mystery to lift.

Training and technique are what allow skiers to glimpse the ecstasy of flight. The mechanics of a ski jump are surprisingly simple: translate the speed of the ramp into an aerodynamic flying position as efficiently as possible. The mental and physical work required to perfect this technique, however, is staggering. 

By the time I was sixteen I had practiced the specific movement of a ski jump tens of thousands of times. I honed my craft on hills of all sizes scattered throughout the country and eventually the world.

My introduction to the Midwest’s ski jump tour came unexpectedly in the winter of 2009. Along with two teammates I had relocated from New Hampshire to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to train with their prolific Nordic club. Our goal for the season was to qualify for the Junior World Championship team and compete in Štrbské Pleso, Slovakia. The team was named early, and when only one of us qualified, the two of us who hadn’t were left figuring out how to spend the rest of the winter. 

We heard through the grapevine of a five-hills tournament that took place in the Midwest where some money could be earned. Nearly penniless athletes undeterred by a long drive, we loaded up our 2002 Subaru Outback and headed to Minnesota for the start of the two-week tour.

What followed was an exhilarating experience. We traveled to five ski clubs peppered throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. And we competed on legendary, old hills with names like Silvermine, Norge, and Suicide. Despite the small size of the towns that hosted us, we skied in front of enthusiastic crowds I hadn’t witnessed anywhere else in the world.

Most strongly etched in my memory from that trip, however, is skiing each of those hills for the first time. Modern facilities allow for safer, longer flights by creating conditions where skiers fly low the ground. Older-style hills, like those of the Midwest, have steeper ramps and larger takeoffs, meaning skiers are much higher in the air.