Posted by Timothy Ziegler on Aug 12th 2021

The Many Variables In Ski Jumping

As in any sport, a lot of different variables are taken into account while ski jumping. People might be able to guess what a lot of these factors are by using common sense, like the wind constantly changing, each person having a different jumping style and needing to adjust in their own way to the conditions, the nature of jumping on plastic or on snow depending on the season, and how well-watered the plastic on the landing is in the summer. You’ve got to be able to stay on top of these things all at once in order to have a good performance while jumping. In addition to keeping these external factors in mind, you also have to consider internal factors like how tired or stressed or emotional or focused you are. In the world of ski jumping, things like a good blast of headwind or an unexpected gust of tailwind can make or break your jump. How you conduct yourself while jumping can make a training session that much more enjoyable or unbearable.

Everyone has to deal with changing external and internal conditions, and with good practice and training you can learn to adapt to just about any unexpected situation you might encounter while ski jumping. I’ve learned how to deal with different wind while jumping, I know that the snow isn’t always going to be perfect, and I do my best to not let my emotions get the best of me while I’m jumping so that I can instead focus on the next jump, whether in practice or competition, but there are some events that no amount of visualization or mental preparation can help you with. Sometimes things just happen while you jump, and there’s nothing you can do after you’ve pushed off the bar but do what you’ve trained to do, keep your wits about you, and hope that it all works out. I’d like to now lighten the mood a bit and talk about some of the more unusual things I’ve encountered in my years of ski jumping.

One of these experiences that I remember fondly was at a summer training camp in Villach, Austria. It was a normal session, and I was on the bar and ready to go. I pushed off the bar and set into my inrun position, accelerating to attack speed. I hit the takeoff at 85 km per hour just as I had many times before, but as I got into the air I realized that something was off. I was being pelted by water from some unknown source, seemingly out of nowhere. Despite seizing up out of surprise, I held the flight position and ended up going pretty far, all things considered. It turns out, the guy in charge of watering the plastic on the hill didn’t see that I was on the bar waiting to jump, and between the time of me pushing off the bar and hitting the takeoff, he had turned the massive sprinklers on so the water jets hit me mid-air. I wasn’t too bent out of shape about it, seeing as I still had a decent jump, and I was delighted to hear that, by chance, my coach had gotten some high-quality pictures of the jump.

A few of my intriguing experiences involve wildlife interfering with jumping. My most tame memory was at Junior Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, where I looked over the edge of the tower at the top of the jump and saw a moose casually grazing on a plant just below us. I had a few closer encounters with animals while training out West in the summer. One morning in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I had a whistle pig (yellow bellied marmot) run straight into the track just after I had pushed off the bar and was coming down the inrun. Luckily, he moved out of the way just in time. In the moment I didn’t even notice he was there, and only learned about it when my friend who was on the coaches’ stand told me after the session.

My most fascinating run-in with western wildlife was in Park City, Utah. During a day where the junior skiers got coached by members of the USANS National Team, fellow EnjoyWinter athlete Casey Larson convinced me that I should go out of the top bar on the 60-meter hill to “just send it and have some fun.” I was all for it, so I headed back up and got ready for another jump. All was well as I pushed off the bar and settled into my inrun knowing I had to make this jump count. I hit the takeoff and then suddenly felt my ski shudder and my body twist in the air. Out of instinct, I pulled my skis back in under me and came in for an earlier landing than I had planned, not sure why I suddenly twisted in the air. Discouraged, I got on the radio and told Casey it was me, at which time he informed me that the reason I got lopsided in the air was because I had smoked a bird with my ski just after coming off the takeoff! We’re talking a tiny Canyon Wren that somehow got unlucky enough to be in the right (wrong) place just after the takeoff of this specific jump at the exact time that my 4-inch-wide ski was coming at it--probably a chance of less than one in a million. One of the other National Team guys even got it on video, and while you can’t really see the bird make contact, you can hear it hit and see my ski get pushed back, knocking me off course in the air before landing considerably shorter than I had imagined I would.

Essentially, there are many changing variables that everyone has to deal with while jumping, or, frankly, doing anything in life. But there are some challenges that life throws at you that you just have to take in stride, because the better you handle it in the moment, the sooner you can move past the disruption or setback...and the funnier of a story it becomes a few years later.