Ballpark Estimate: $400 to $1,500 (1st year – used gear); $1,300 to $3,000 (2nd year – new gear)
Every four years, the Winter Olympic athletes show us the very best in skiing, skating, bobsled, luge, and more. But one of the most awe inspiring sports has got to be ski jumping. Wearing impossibly long and wide jumping skis, perched high on towering structures that have one and only one purpose, they streak toward the earth, launch themselves into the air – and then fly. The current world record for longest ski jump is 239 meters (784 feet), set in 2005 in Planica, Slovenia by Norwegian jumper Bjorn Einar Romoren. Putting it in terms that we in the States can understand, that’s over two football fields in length.
Ski jumping was born in 1809, when Norwegian soldier, Olaf Rye, jumped 9.5 meters before an appreciative audience of fellow soldiers. But the true founder of the sport was the “father of modern skiing,” Sondre Norheim. Norheim grew up in a tiny cottage in the district of Telemark, in southern Norway. His father made him a pair of pine skis when he was very young, and Sondre lived and breathed skiing until his death in 1897, at the age of 71. He invented curved skis, heel bindings, the Telemark turn, and the Christiana turn – key Nordic skiing techniques. He was instrumental in presenting skiing as a recreational sport, rather than simply a means of transportation, and he had an artistic and daring skiing style. One of his impressive ski jumps as a child was over the rooftop of his family’s home. In 1866, he won the first ski jumping competition ever held when he jumped 30 meters using a large rock as a take-off point. Over the years, ski jumping became wildly popular, and the sport has been part of the Winter Olympic Games since their inception in 1924.
However, only men are allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympics. Women compete internationally in the Continental Cup, and for the first time, will be allowed to compete in the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic; but they continue to be closed out of the Olympic Games. The hard-working American women’s team, as well as women’s teams all over the world, are actively petitioning the Olympic Committee to open the sport to women for the 2010 Winter Games.
Thanks to technologies invented in Europe, ski jumping is now a year-round sport. In the winter, athletes train and compete on snow-covered structures, but in the summer, many jumpers continue to train, speeding down special tracks (the inrun) lined with steel or porcelain ball bearings. They soar through the air and land on hills covered with long strands of plastic that are sprayed with water to keep them slick. [Not all ski jumping facilities are set up for summer training.]
How to Get Started
In the United States, you can find ski jumping facilities in at least thirteen states from Alaska to Maine, including Olympic facilities in Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah. Here in the States, ski jumping is mostly a club-based sport, although there are also a number of high schools and prep schools with ski jumping teams.
Ski Jumping Locations
- North East: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Connecticut.
- Midwest: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
- West: Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Alaska.
If you want to try ski jumping, your best bet is to find a club close to where you live, purchase a club membership, and show up for their training sessions. Most clubs will happily welcome any physically fit skier, child or adult, who is enthusiastic and ready to learn.
The clubs and ski jump facilities are run cooperatively by highly skilled and experienced coaches and trainers, as well as a crew of hard-working and devoted volunteers – parents, jumpers, friends, and family – who make everything work. Annual fees are usually very affordable, as are your first year’s coaching fees and beginner’s gear. Some clubs include beginner gear rental in your first year’s membership.
- U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) membership – $40
- Local club membership (single) – $35 to $150 per year
- Coaching fee for 1st year – $100
- Equipment rental, 1st year – $0 to $100
Buying Ski Jumping Gear
When you’re just starting out, you’ll wear your regular skiwear and use your downhill skis, boots, and helmet. You’ll probably start out on a 10-meter jump. This measurement doesn’t refer to the jump’s height; a 10-meter jump is only about 6 inches high. Instead, the designation refers to the length of the jump that skiers can, after plenty of practice, expect from that hill.
From there, you’ll progress to a 20-meter hill (2.5 feet high), and eventually graduate to 30 or 40 meters. By this time, you will have rented and possibly purchased some used jumping skis and boots from your club. By the time you’re regularly jumping at the 40- or 60-meter range, you will have purchased your own specialized jumping gear and suit. At 40-meters, you will be learning to “fly” the distance, and you’ll want wider, longer skis for that technique.
Used Ski Jumping Gear
Your new friends at the ski club are your best source for used gear at good prices, or you can try your luck online. Online used gear prices are listed below:
- Suit – $50 to $140
- Skis – $40 to $600
- Boots – $50 to $125
- Helmet/goggles – $75 to $200
New Ski Jumping Gear
Jumping skis are the heaviest, longest, and widest skis in all of skiing. Men’s skis can be 250+ cm in length, over 4 inches wide, and weigh anywhere from 6 to 10 pounds each. The International Ski Federation (FIS) carefully controls every detail of jumpers’ gear and clothing. Skis may not exceed 147% of the skier’s height and may be no wider than 11.5 centimeters. Rules for suits include details such as thickness and air permeability of the fabric, collar circumference, location and type of seams, and sleeve length, to name just a few.
When you decide to buy new gear, your best course of action is to order it through your club or team, so you can get the benefit of your coach’s advice along with the team or club discount. If you’re on your own, and are buying online from Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, etc., be prepared to pay as much as 19% sales tax, plus shipping and handling costs.
New gear price ranges are listed below. The low prices are often junior sizes while the very high prices are for the more serious (and/or fully-grown) athlete. Elite jumpers often use custom-made gear, which costs even more.
- Suit – $115 to $600
- Skis – $300 to $700
- Boots – $300 to $550
- Bindings – $200 to $500
Helmets are available at local ski supply stores here in the States.
- Helmet/goggles – $100 to $300
What to Expect
Most club coaches agree that, while everyone progresses at their own rate, most people take about a year to master 10- and 20-meter jumps. With motivation, dedication, and skill, you may feel comfortable on the 40-meter hill sometime in your second year of jumping.
Coaches also agree that for a hard-working jumper, the 60-meter jump is a reasonable long-term goal. At the Olympics, there are two categories of jumps: normal hill (90-meters) and large hill (120-meters). During very long jumps, world-class skiers can spend as much as 20 seconds in the air, from take-off to landing. The jumps are carefully designed for safety, and landing hills are contoured so that even on the biggest jumps, skiers never fly more than 15 to 20 feet from the ground. Even so, it’s a sport that requires practice, discipline, a good coach, and a need for speed.
Once you buy your own gear, you’ve probably decided ski jumping is the sport for you. Some jumpers have a great time honing their skills at their club’s facilities and other hills in the area. But some dream of competing – testing their skills on the tournament circuit. If competition is part of your game plan, you’ll find that local and regional tournaments are very affordable, but once you get out on the national circuit, with your eyes on the Junior Olympics, the National team, or the Olympics, be prepared to pay your own way as you travel (and jump) around the country and the world.