What possesses a person to leap head first from a 150-foot high scaffold, mortal men can only guess. Yet that is precisely what energizes the spectacle of ski jumping, watching highly trained athletes discard reason and leap with a grace reserved for our winged friends. What the ski jumper lacks in common sense, they make up with courage.
My father knew this. He took up this risky pastime as a young boy growing up on a farm near Westby, where the winds of winter and the shape of the land drew boys to the fantasy of taking flight. Apparently the prospect of defying gravity appealed to young teenagers looking for escape from farm chores. When the tobacco fields surrendered to snow, ski jumping became their passion.
By the time I was a teenager in the 1960’s, dad had given up jumping for downhill skiing – that pedestrian form of transportation that jumpers rely upon when they return to earth. He took me to a coulee not far from our house and imparted to me the ski jumper’s version of downhill: point your skis into the fall line and let gravity do the rest. But ski jumping was still in his blood. Every year in February, he would take me on the pilgrimage back to his roots, back to Timber Coulee.
Many spectators sat in their cars down in the valley and honked their horns at the sight of a good jump, filling the valley with the sound of chrome-bumpered geese. Not content with this secondhand view from the valley floor, dad and I would climb the steep steps along with the jumpers, turning our heads in unison to admire the last jump. We would then stand near the scaffold takeoff to judge the jump by the shape of skier’s winged body and the utterances both hopeful and frightful that leapt from their mouths. We could not see the landing from where we stood, but dad seemed to jump with them into the abyss and applaud with a knowing nod.
This year’s event kicks off with Breakfast on Friday morning at Borgen’s Café, where dad and I once sat as jumpers described their daring feats with gesturing arms and a Norwegian brogue. Competitors will practice on Thursday and Friday, with opening ceremonies for competition on Friday night at 7 pm and Saturday at noon. Fireworks will fill the sky on Friday night between jumping rounds, and there will be live music at the Rod and Gun Club following the competition on both days. And of course plenty of good eats and drinks on the grounds.
As I write this, snow is falling outside my window in a coulee not far from that first exhilarating dash down the hill. Time to get out the skis. And time for you to make plans for watching jumpers take flight at the Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament.