Plastic in February

Plastic in February? At Junior Nationals Championships?….Yep! And it was great!

Two weeks ago, for the first time ever, the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, IL hosted Junior National Championships, which in an of itself is kind of hard to believe. And for the first time ever, a Junior National Championships was held in the winter competition season on plastic. I think there are two ways of looking at this: a scary indicator of what the future of our sport could look like, or the amazing ability of our sport to adapt and a huge benefit that we have over other skiing disciplines. We can hold a winter competition when there is no snow. How amazing is that!

This season was almost the Jekyll and Hyde of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined when it comes to weather. While Park City got pounded with snow, and people were frustrated with constantly having to pull snow off the hills, Central and East saw temperatures surpass 60 and even 70 degrees, and of course the rains came as they always do. This made hill preparation hard on both ends of the spectrum, which is a real concern in a sport that relies so heavily on volunteers for so many tasks including hill preparation. Ford Sayre, Andover, and Salisbury were able to persevere and hold their comps due to snowmaking, but the Lebanon K48 fell victim to weather, and Gunstock and Lake Placid were forced to cancel meets. Lake Placid actually had to cancel two meets. In the Midwest, Minneapolis also had to cancel their meet in February.

Now, many readers may be waiting in anticipation of whether I am going to utter two big words…and yes, I am. The majority of humanity believes that climate change is happening, and I am one of them. However, I see this as an opportunity for Ski Jumping not as the downfall of Ski Jumping. If we can adapt and put plastic on more hills, we have a largely climate change/weatherproof sport, in many ways. And already clubs are doing very innovative things to make it easier on the people preparing the hills.

  • Alaska skied a steel track to snow landing hill all winter long, making inrun prep easier.
  • Iola has skied steel track for years and may have been one of the first to do this.
  • Coleraine put rails on top of their porcelain track, so they can just put an inch of snow in the tracks, water the track down, and voila, and ice track.
  • Eau Clair has made the width of the area to snow on the inrun much narrower and now has a refrigeration system on Silvermine.
  • Salisbury is planning on replicating the inrun of Eau Claire minus the refrigeration.
  • Steamboat skied porcelain to snow on the HS75 and 45.
  • Both Steamboat and Park City have inrun covers, which makes snow removal easier for those big dumps.
  • And Lake Placid now skis porcelain to snow on a regular basis.

All these adaptations make it easier to prepare hills. Junior Nationals was just the next step of actually skiing plastic in the winter, and I applaud Norge for making the call and deciding to pull the snow off the hill rather than cancel. It ended up being a great event with a new “Plastic Hill Record” (not winter) set by Decker Dean, and there were lots of great jumps. Another awesome feature was the Elimination Jump, which used athletes previous jumps to create a handicap, and then athletes jumped head to head in a NCAA Basketball tournament style bracket, where the winner was not necessarily the longer jump because of the handicap. This gave a much greater group of athletes a chance to win, which is more inclusive and fun!

Thank you to all the organizers for putting on a great event and for all the hard work that went into the week. I am sure that lots of folks were pulling their hair out over the weather, but in my opinion the event was a huge success and shows was is possible. It has not been mentioned in this article yet, but also a big thank you to Matt Laue and Guy Larson for pulling off an excellent Nordic Combined event at Wilmot Mountain with a fantastic course and very good conditions. Nordic Combined is more of a challenge than jumping with no snow, but alpine areas with great snowmaking are a huge bonus and an awesome resource.

I am excited that clubs are figuring out ways to make their competitions happen despite the weather, and we need to keep innovating as we move forward.

Jed Hinkley