Spectators come to Silver Mine Hill on tournament weekend and see a sparkling ski hill illuminated brilliantly under the lights.
Most don’t even think about what it takes to display such a scene — one that allows jumpers to soar great distances through the night air.
What it takes is a dedicated handful of volunteers — who somehow wave a magic wand and all is ready.
In reality, it takes about a month to put it all together for a successful show. And there is one other vital ingredient.
The club has battled rain, snow, wind and zero temperatures through the years — that has some years put the show in jeopardy.
Not last weekend. Everything fell into place for one of the Flying Eagles Ski Club’s most successful presentations.
“A lot has to do with the weather,” said chief of competition Paul Jastrow, who said mild conditions are attractive to the public. “We put on a good show every year and this year the weather combined with great jumping Saturday night allowed the crowd to get into it.”
With temperatures soaring to nearly 40 degrees both Friday and Saturday nights, the Silver Mine grounds became a beehive of activity for full parking lot crowds estimated at 4,000 Friday and even more Saturday.
“It was very exciting,” Jastrow said. “The crowds were amazing and the jumpers responded to the crowds. It was electrifying.”
The athletes admitted it is a rare experience with crowds cheering, cow bells ringing and an overall festive atmosphere.
Decker Dean, the U20 Junior Class winner both days, said this is one of his favorite hills. “The environment is better here and its exciting.”
All the foreign jumpers agreed, most here for the first time.
“This is something we don’t experience in Europe,” said Finland’s Elias Vanska. “The people make it a great experience.”
“This is better than in Slovenia,” said winner Nik Fabijan. “It was really fun and an awesome time with the crowd reacting to the long jumps.”
Jastrow said it is a credit to all the events sponsors.
“This wouldn’t be possible without the support we get,” he said. “We’re presenting something for the community and we see many new faces every year.”
And what’s ahead?
“We just need to make sure we improve every year,” he said.
The next generation of high-flying Eagles put on another great show — all of them enjoying the experience of soaring through the air and looking to the future.
Stewart Gundry, age 12: “It was fun.”
Carter Lee, 13: “This is one of my favorite hills and I felt good.”
Logan Gundry, 15: “I was definitely comfortable and it went pretty good.”
Landon Lee, 15: “It was so much fun and I felt good through the air. And I got my PR.”
Decker Dean one of the stars of the show from Steamboat Springs, Colo., has Eau Claire connections.
He was accompanied by Coach Karl Denney, son of Jon Denney, one of the famous Flying Denney’s out of Duluth. It seems not too long ago that as a junior, Karl set the hill record at the Mt. Washington jump just down the bluff from Silver Mine, where he later had a long jump of 304 feet.
Another of his coaches in Steamboat? Would you believe Keith Zuehlke. That would be Eau Claire’s 1956 National champion and the father of two-time Olympian Reed Zuehlke. Keith lives in Steamboat and is said to be at the hill there every day.
Reed, who lives in Florida but travels the world as a ski official, served as a tournament judge and got to visit with godfather Billy Olson, who watched both days from the warming tent and visited with old friends.
What do Reed and Billy have in common? They both skied — a generation apart — in two Olympic Games.
While Nate jumped and mother Lisa worked in tournament computations at Silver Mine, the rest of the Mattoons were scattered around the world during the weekend.
Dad Dan was in Obertsdorf, Germany serving as a style judge at the World Ski Flying championships.
Oldest son Nick was in Erzurum, Turkey jumping in Continental Cup competition and just missed scoring with a 36th place.
Daughter Natasha, where? Alaska, of course. She serves as a coach along with Zak Hammill for the Anchorage club.
Three members of the original Flying Eagles junior club of the 1930s were in attendance during the weekend. They were Kerm Walker, 92; Tom Fletty, 90 and Billy Olson 88. ... Joe Berens, the Noriaki Kasai of Silver Mine at 56 years old, said with beverage in hand “I got lazy” after taking a spill on Friday night. It seems no one has more fun than Joe. ... The K-Point concession stand on the shelf was operated by Tim Anderson and Paul and Karyl Loomis. Someone wanted to call it the “Olympic stand” in reference to Emilee Anderson and Ben Loomis, who both skied in the Youth Olympics. ... While Slovenia’s Miha Kveder’s 96 meter 315 foot hill record was standing up at Silver Mine over the weekend, he was placing 11th in an FIS Cup event in Planica. ... Gary Amundson and Chris Sorensen, two of the Flying Eagles National junior contenders of the 1990s, were among the workers preparing the hill last weekend .... Former National junior champion and ski flyer Pat Hamler is done with his backpack marathons. He has now done five triathalons. ... There are so many club members and volunteers who should be recognized but two who have been dedicated for most of the past 30 years would be Paul Seipel and Don Dahl, who made sure no on snuck in at the gate while Dahl, former club president, spent much of his week at the hill. ... Master Tony Benzie, a former top jumper out of Iron Mountain who still lives there, skis for the Flying Eagles in that he got a snub from the Kiwanis club in the Upper Peninsula. ... and the appearance of Reed Zuehlke reminds of his achievements. While few U.S. skiers have scored World Cup points for years, Zuehlke, under the current top-30 scoring system, would have piled up close to 500 points during the mainly early-to-mid 1980 years of his career.