Silver Mine is celebrating its golden anniversary, but the historic ski hill is actually decked out in white.
Surrounded by brown, the 146-foot ski jump and landing hill easily stand out thanks to lots of manufactured snow.
“We prefer man-made snow over natural snow, so we’re always making snow,” said Zach Jastrow, chief of hill and chairman of the 133rd Silver Mine Invitational.
The annual ski-jumping tournament, set for Friday and Saturday in the town of Union, is expected to draw 40 to 50 ski-jumpers from around the globe, ranging in age from teens to jumpers in their 50s, he said.
Jastrow and a handful of others Wednesday were preparing for the annual event at Silver Mine Hill. That prep work included grooming man-made snow.
“This year is (not out of the ordinary) for us really, except the landscape is a little bit different,” said Zastrow, nodding toward the bare vegetation around him. “We have the one white streak throughout western Wisconsin it seems.”
The Flying Eagles Ski Club made snow for the first time this winter around Christmas, Jastrow said.
“We had a nice little cold snap just before Christmas and a little bit after, and then it warmed up, leaving us with about (one-third) of the snow that we needed,” he said. “Thankfully, last week Tuesday through Thursday, we had that nice little cold snap, and we maxed out all of our snow-making equipment, so now we have more than enough snow.”
Man-made snow holds up better in the sun and warmer temperatures, he said.
To prepare the landing hill, it takes about 12 to 18 inches of snow, Jastrow said. “Everything is compressed down, packed in, and we rake it nice and smooth. It almost sets up like concrete.”
The jump itself looks like it’s packed with snow, but only 16 inches in the center, where the jumpers’ skis run down, actually has — on average six to 12 inches of — snow. (The plywood on either side of the track the skiers follow is painted white, giving the appearance of snow all the way across, Jastrow said.)
Mother Nature could add a bit to that. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 20 percent chance of snow before 7 this morning, and a 20 percent chance of snow before midnight Friday.
The winter Silver Mine was built — 1968-69 — had heavy snowfall; however, crews had been working at the hill almost steady since mid-December, according to a Jan. 21, 1969, Leader-Telegram article.
Part of the project included transporting the tower from Hendrickson Hill in sections to the new site. Hendrickson Hill, according to the article, served area ski-jumpers for 20 years.
Ski jumping in Eau Claire got its start, though, at Mount Tom, according to a Feb. 27, 1987, Leader-Telegram article. It then moved to Carson Park, and within a few years, it landed at Mount Washington.