Ski Jumping

lake placid new york ski jump towers

Push yourself down a ramp steeper than virtually any ski trail you've ever tried. Know that the ramp is icy, and you will have no manner of stopping until the ramp ends. Yes, the ramp ends. Abruptly. Although you are looking down, you cannot see the landing zone; it feels as if you are about to launch off a cliff. At that point you will rocket into the air whether you like it or not. Gravity will eventually pull you down to a hill that seems even steeper than the ramp you just left. Still upright? Good. In the time it takes to read this, you are now on a flat area eventually angles upward before ending abruptly at hay bales, a padded wall, or maybe a parking lot. Prior to reaching that point you will try to turn your hopelessly long (270 cm) skis to scrape off speed, and hopefully, stop.

This is not a sport for the faint of heart.

History and Evolution of Technique

ski jumper showing the V style.  Photo courtesy wikipedia Ski jumping began in Scandinavia probably as soon as hunters and journeymen strapped on long boards for the winter travel known as schee or skee. Specific date of origin is unknown. The first recorded evidence of ski jumping as a sport is from Morgedal, Norway, which is known as the cradle of modern skiing. The first recorded competition was held in Trysil in 1862. An international ski jumping competition called the Husebyrennene, began in Oslo in 1879, and moved to Holmenkollen in 1892. Today, Holmenkollen is generally understood to be the "Mecca" of ski jumping.

For a time, ski jumping was more popular in the United States than downhill skiing. As part of the Nordic discipline, it dominated skiing until the Arlberg method of downhill was popularized. Jumps were found in virtually every state with snowfall, from New Jersey to California. From 1900 through the 1930s, jumping competitions were held on temporary ramps, at golf courses, indoor arenas, and almost any facility imaginable. Notable jumping facilities were located in Berlin NH, Greenfield MA, Brattleboro VT, and Iron Mountain MI. The most popular ski jump in the early 20th century was located at Bear Mountain State Park NY, just north of New York City.

Indoor competitions were held in civic arenas, and believe it or not, big city department stores. The department store ramps were usually constructed for demonstrations to sell skis; weekend competitions were just a natural outgrowth.

Ski jumping has been a part of the winter Olympics since 1924, but only for men. In the first competition at Le Mont, Jacob Tullin Thams of Norway took the gold. (In a side note, Tullin Thams won a silver medal in sailing at the 1936 Summer Olympics, making him one of a select few to win both Winter and Summer medals.) Tullin Thams also was one of the originators of the Kongsberger technique, in which the jumper was bent at the hips, arms stretched out and forward above the head, skis parallel. This style lasted until the 1950s, when the Daescher technique proved to result in longer jumps. Daescher had arms folded back alongside the body, and less of a "hinge" type bend at the waist. The Daescher Technique predominated until the 1980s, when Jan Boklöv of Sweden introduced the V-technique. This was an adaptation of the arms-back Daescher method, but the skis were now placed in a flying "V" shape for more lift. Boklov's "V" resulted in 10% longer jumps, and has been the preferred style since 1985.

Understanding the Jump and the Jump Hill

A ski jump is more than just a ramp and a landing zone. It requires smooth transitions between widely differing angles, both on the take-off ramp and the landing zone.

anatomy of a ski jump ramp

At the top of the ramp is the start. On some ramps, this may move up or down depending on the competition officials -- you'll read why they do that in a moment. The skier immediately enters the inrun, gaining speed. The steeply angled inrun transitions to the take-off, also known as the "lip" or end of the ramp. This upper transition is called R1.

The take-off is angled slightly downward, about 10 degrees on average. If it were to propel the skier upward, jumpers would more likely land with a crater than the graceful runway type landings we are accustomed to. Take-off is where the jumper's skill and form matter most. The competitive urge is to propel upward for maximum flight, but the reality is that wind resistance requires the skier to lean forward. So at take off the skier tries to keep his chest in, yet propel himself forward with his legs. It is a dangerous, high-speed ballet.

After take-off the skier shoots out over the knoll, and is airborne. Next comes the landing zone, and then the transition to the outrun. This lower transition is referred to as R2.

Important to note that the point where the landing zone meets the transition (R2) is known as the K-Point. It's important because the K-Point determines the size of the jump facility. In the past, jumps were measured by the distance from the take-off to the steepest point of the landing zone (most laymen assumed it measured the height of the ramp structure). At Lake Placid, for example, the jump was known as a "70 Meter Ski Jump." Today, jumps are measured from the lip of the take-off to the K-Point, and are referred to as the "K number." Using Lake Placid as our example, the K-Point is about 16 meters past the steepest point of the landing, so the 70-Meter Jump is now referred to as a K-86.

At a jumping event such as the Olympics, officials require skiers to make one practice jump and two competition jumps. Because of the dangers involved with skiers traveling too far and landing on the runout, most organizers and officials look for practice jumps to go no farther than 10% past the K-Point. If officials suspect that jumps will exceed this, they will lower the start point to shave off speed. That is why you will often see jumpers start from a little temporary seat mounted well below the start house.

Scoring an Event

In a simple amateur distance competition, the jump distance is measured to where the skier's boots impact the snow. Since ski tails usually touch first and drag for a bit, this can be quite difficult. When style points are counted, it becomes even more of a judgmental sport.

Remember that each hill has a K-Point. In competition this is calculated and marked with a line, called -- surprise -- the K-Line. For a K-90 event, skiers get 60 points if they land on the K-Line. For every meter beyond or short of the K-Line, judges will deduct 1.8 points.

Now, in addition to this 60 (less 1.8/M) point score, five judges grade each jumper for style, with a 20 point maximum. They grade on how smooth the skis are during the jump, how well the skier is balanced, overall form, and telemark-style landing. Highest and lowest grades are thrown out, so only three judges' scores count. Again, competitions are one practice jump, two jumps that count. Add up all the numbers for the two jumps, and you've got your score; highest total wins.

Might as well Jump...Go ahead and Jump

Apologies to Van Halen for that. Anyway, ski jumping is a hugely popular sport in Finland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Japan. Although it has a lot less of a following in the USA, TV ratings are usually solid for Olympic jumping events. As a participatory sport, there are clubs around the country through which you can participate. Beginners usually start on a K-10 hill, which means you're jumping about 10 yards. People work their way up to bigger and bigger jumps, yet many recreational jumpers will never do more than a K-40.

For an introduction to the sport, best thing is to visit a jumping facility. Find 'em at Lake Placid NY, Fox River Grove IL, Park City UT, and Steamboat Springs CO. There are also countless clubs in the upper midwest, which was a favored region for Scandinavian immigrants, who brought their sport with them.

Live webcam image from Lake Placid, NY. Updates hourly.

Key Links...

  • This link goes to a page specifically about the history of Olympic jumping.
  • Ski Flying An "extreme" form off ski jumping, not recognized by the IOC.
  • Organization group for the clubs throughout the midwestern USA.
  • SkiJumpEast website focusing on ski jumping sites and clubs in the eastern USA.
  • just like it sounds, Canadian ski jumping website.

Please click here for the main page.

Masthead photos used by permission:
Ralf Roletschek
Creative Commons
US Army/public domain
Erik Charlton.