Even Goldilocks would approve of conditions for the 132nd anniversary Silver Mine Invitational this weekend.
It’s not too hot — like last year when it rained for two weeks before the event. It’s not too cold — like four years ago when the temperature hovered well below zero for part of the weekend.
It’s just right for the 50 to 60 ski jumpers from the United States, Finland and Slovenia who are poised to fly up to 300 feet through the air tonight and Saturday at Silver Mine Hill in the town of Union just west of Eau Claire.
“This is strange. We’re not used to this,” the event’s chief of competition, Paul Jastrow, said Thursday afternoon as he discussed the near-perfect conditions leading up to this year’s Silver Mine Invitational, which includes the U.S. Cup Tournament tonight and the 5-Hills Tournament and Long Standing Jump on Saturday evening.
As a result, a team of about 10 volunteers was calmly tending to last-minute details Thursday for hosting an event that typically attracts 2,500 to 3,000 spectators instead of scrambling to overcome weather challenges in getting the hill ready for competition.
Hill preparation began right after Christmas — with new portable snow-making machines easing the task of distributing snow all over the 90-meter hill (the same size as the smaller of two used in the Winter Olympics) — and was essentially finished last weekend. Volunteers wearing boots with crampons to stay upright on the 32 degree slope used dye to apply a sponsor’s logo to the hill face on Thursday afternoon.
“Everything for hill preparation is good, and now it’s just up to Mother Nature with the wind,” Jastrow said, noting the direction and speed of the wind is more important than temperature in determining how far jumpers fly.
A headwind generally leads to longer jumps because it gives the athletes more lift as they take off from the bottom of the 150-foot-high scaffold at speeds of 40 to 50 mph, Jastrow said.
The sight of jumpers soaring through the night sky is remarkable for newcomers to ski jumping and never gets old for veterans of the sport, he said.
“It’s just cool seeing people jump that far through the air,” he said.
Jastrow said every year he talks to first-time spectators who are amazed by the viewing experience.
“They say, ‘I never knew this was here. This is awesome. I’m going to come every year,’ “ he said.
Spectators have the option of choosing from among several viewing areas, including a stairway that runs the length of the hill, a flat area to the side of K-point (the spot about 85 meters from the end of the jump where the hill begins to flatten out), a space surrounding the spot where skiers end their runs at the bottom of the hill and a large, heated hospitality tent at the base of the hill.
The tent contains a DJ, beer garden, concessions, and face painting and roller jumping for kids, said Jastrow’s wife, Tami, who helps coordinate marketing and registration for the event. Organizers hope to have a TV set up in the tent to live stream the competition.
With the forecast calling for temperatures in the 30s for the two evenings of competition, keeping comfortable shouldn’t be as big a challenge as some years. Still, spectators also can stay warm by three or four large bonfires and several Swedish candles set up around the grounds, Tami Jastrow said.
“It’s an incredible experience,” she said. “And as cold as it’s been lately, it will be fun for people to have something outdoors to do again.”
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