I have always known ski jumping participants were gutsy competitors with nerves of steel, athletes willing to dare human flights from death-defying heights to complete crowd-pleasing jumps in search of ever-longer leaps.
Every four years I watch ski jumpers as part of the Winter Olympics and am impressed at their daring natures.
But viewing the event on TV doesn’t do it justice. Until I wrote about the Silver Mine Invitational ski-jumping competition in Eau Claire recently, I didn’t fully appreciate just how high above their surroundings those jumpers begin their descents from.
Shortly after arriving at the jump site the evening of Jan. 19, I stood at the base of the Silver Mine Hill ski jump staring skyward in disbelief. The jump itself seemed impossibly high and steep as it stretched toward the dark sky overhead.
My eyes kept climbing, higher and higher, until they found the starting gate lit with tiny white lights where jumpers began their runs.
“That’s where they start?” I asked my wife, who had accompanied me to the event. “Way up there? Are you kidding?”
That, indeed, was where jumpers began their plunges down the sharply inclined hill, speeding down the structure ever faster before lifting off into the air, then landing on the packed white, slick surface near the bottom of the hill and, eventually, coming to a stop.
I watched one jumper after another plummet from above. I was surprised at how fast they dropped down the hill. I admired how most landed skillfully without wiping out.
But most of all I marveled at the fortitude jumpers possess to perch atop the ski jump, so far above their surroundings, to stare way down at the tiny landing below, then decide to go down, full speed ahead.