He was five years old and when his parents enrolled him in the Flying Eagles Learn-to-Ski program over the Christmas holidays at the Mt. Washington Nordic Ski Center.
“I tried the 7-meter and enjoyed it, I just wasn’t really too excited about going out into the cold,” said Andrew Urlaub. “But I kept doing it.”
Urlaub is glad he did.
“It led to bigger jumps and traveling and I really enjoyed that,” he said.
Eleven years later, the 16-year old Memorial High School junior will continue his travels next week when he makes his fourth trip to Europe.
This time it’s Switzerland — for the World Junior ski jumping championships. There he is joined by fellow Flying Eagle Ben Loomis, who is taking part in Nordic combined.
Urlaub is a member of the U.S. Team that also includes Decker Dean of Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Casey Larson and Hunter Gibson of the Norge Ski Club of Chicago.
“I’m quite excited about it but have no idea what to expect,” he said. “I’d like to finish in the top 30 and then have a good team showing.”
Heading the group is Larson, 19, a long time veteran of Silver Mine Hill. He is in his second year on the World Cup circuit and finished a respectable eighth in last year’s Junior Games at Park City, Ut. Later he had a monster ski flying jump of 216 2 meters or 710 feet at Vikersund, Norway.
The others do not have that much experience on the international scene, although Dean, 17, took part in last year’s Games at Park City. Dean and Gibson, 16, have been rivals of Urlaub’s in recent years. That is, friendly rivals. Traveling, they stay at each other’s homes. And they pull for each other. To a certain extent.
“We’re all really good friends,” Urlaub said. “We pull for each other and compete with each other and that makes us better. Of course, I try to win and so do they.”
That was evident at Silver Mine Hill during the recent two-day tournament. Dean was outstanding and won U20 Class both days with Gibson sharp and second followed by Urlaub.
The city standout started the season sizzling but was disappointed in that he had beaten his two rivals in three previous competitions, including twice in the tryouts at Park City.
“Decker got off to a slow start but when he got here, he told me he had it back,” Urlaub said. “I was jumping off one foot that affected my balance – and confidence.”
That confidence came back just a few days later in the U.S. Cup/5-Hills series the following Wednesday at Ishpeming, Mich., when he won over Dean by a lopsided margin of more than 22 points and skied right along with the Slovenians and Finns.
The rivalry goes back to the 2016 Junior Nationals at Salisbury, Conn., when Gibson won with Urlaub second. Urlaub turned the tables last year at Chicago with Gibson second in U-16 while Dean dominated U-20. The rivalry continued last weekend in Chicago, where Urlaub won the 5-Hills event was third in U.S. Cup competition.
For Urlaub, just when did it happen?
He said he realized he may have something going when he was seventh grade.
“I was 12 and the nationals were in Alaska — it seemed like a fun trip,” he said. “I knew it would be tough with Ben (Loomis) and Casey (Larson) but I qualified.
“It was then that I realized I could do something in that sport.”
He could return to Alaska, where the nationals will be held later this year, but that will depend on whether or not he goes to Lake Placid for a U.S. Cup event the same weekend.
Urlaub had to eliminate a couple other sports before he became a full-time skier. Jeff Urlaub, his dad, was a 1984 state champion wrestler at Neillsville and had his son take a shot at it.
“I did try wrestling,” he said, “but I found it was not for me.”
At Memorial, he was a soccer player and made the varsity as a sophomore but decided it was wise to specialize in ski jumping.
Andrew’s success has gotten his parents involved with the club. After schooling in Florida, they landed in Eau Claire. Jeff operates MEP Engineering and Michelle is a nurse, getting her degree at UW-Eau Claire. For the past several years they have lived in the ideal spot to raise ski-jumpers — directly across from the Mt. Washington Nordic Ski Center in Shawtown.
In Switzerland this week, Andrew knows the challenge is a huge one against the Europeans, who dominate the sport. But he is not backing off.
“It’s definitely a mental thing and you can’t be intimidated by the Europeans,” he said. “We have the athletes and can do it. It’s just mental.”
Urlaub boasts ideal ski jumping dimensions — 5-foot-8 2 inches tall, 129 pounds — and has long range goals, of course. But at the present time, he is focusing on domestic competitions and finishing high school, from where he is gone much of the winter and is forced to do his homework on the fly.
Ahead could be an on-line college education like his Flying Eagles predecessors have done.
Nick and Nate Mattoon, Adam and Ben Loomis and Emilee Anderson have led the way into international competition.
“A goal is to ski World Cup,” he said. “I’ve had good role models. I want to see the Americans do it.”