John F. Russell: Keep ski jumping afloat
November 23, 2008
Steamboat Springs — An old, black-and-white photo depicts a cold, gray winter day in the mountains. There are hundreds of people, dressed in long fur coats and top hats, standing in a snow-covered field at the base of a steep hill.
It was ski jumping’s heyday – a time when large crowds came out to watch a spectacle that brought visitors and locals out to the jumps.
Surprisingly, this photograph is not from Steamboat Springs, but from Harris Hill in Brattleboro, Vt. The towns are thousands of miles apart, but the image ties the two towns together in a longstanding tradition that is fading in the United States faster than the gray tones of an old black-and-white photo.
This is not ski jumping’s heyday.
Today, the U.S. Ski Team no longer is represented on the men’s World Cup Tour, and the towns that long have supported the sport are facing financial challenges to hold onto the decaying icons of their traditions.
Brattleboro’s ski jump was threatened two years ago when the hill was closed after falling into disrepair. But Brattleboro responded by raising $300,000 to repair the jump and bring it up to current International Skiing Federation rules. Competition will return to Harris Hill in February, and supporters of the sport hope to see it return to the international stage in the future.
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A few years ago, Steamboat invested millions into a new year-round ski jump that has energized the sport in our small mountain community has and helped this town maintain its foothold in the national ski jumping community.
These examples display the same grassroots effort it will take to return the sport of ski jumping to its place on the international stage.
Luckily, there are people such as Mike Holland – a member of the U.S. Special Jumping team from 1982 to 1990 and a two-time Olympian – out there to offer the sport a chance.
He has made a promotional package that he hopes will spark interest in schoolchildren across the United States, and hopeful supply a new group of stars to carry on the sport in the future.
He hopes ski clubs will take the package to elementary schools and promote the sport. It includes a five-minute DVD of young children and world-class jumpers on the hills. The students will be able to take the video home and, hopefully, sell their parents on the idea of ski jumping.
Holland also is spending hours on the phone, calling potential donors to raise money for the developmental ski jumping team he hopes will provide the talent needed for the U.S. to return to the World Cup in the future.
Only time will tell whether the efforts are worthwhile, but if he can pass his passion for the sport on to a new generation of athletes, maybe someday, the crowds will return to the base of the ski jumps in Brattleboro and Steamboat to watch an American reach new heights in one of the greatest spectacles of sports.
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