Geländesprung Jumping

This is from an article that Josh Davis wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in Novemember, 2002. It was one of his first published articles:

Last winter I decided to hang up my toboggan and give arm wrestling a try. I bought some arm warmers, traveled to Poland to compete in the World Armwrestling Championship, and went on to lose every single match. After my final loss, I hung up my armwarmers and decided that arm wrestling wasn't the sport for me. But now, one year later, I'm faced with a pressing question: What the hell am I going to do this winter?

Here are my constraints. In 1991, at the height of the Scott Schmidt Extreme Ski hype-a-thon, I bought my last pair of skis, a pair of K2 “Extremes” with metal edges so wide they grab the snow and make me face plant every time I try to turn. I put up with it for a few years but the face-planting bit got a little boring after awhile. I don't have enough money to buy a new pair and renting is expensive so my choices are give up skiing or find a way of skiing that involves less turning. Ski jumping, of course, is the obvious answer.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to be a ski jumper in San Francisco . Squaw's two jumps -- built for the 1960 Olympics -- look like they haven't been sneezed on since 1961. The landing zone is dotted with sprouting trees, and you'd need a fresh copy of the 1960 Winter Olympics Press Kit to discern the ramp. I don't have a death wish. I just want some winter excitement.

I want to fly like they fly on TV during the Olympics. I want to feel the wind holding me up and hear the crowds roar and gasp. I'm not really so interested in the whole catapulting down the ramp thing, but I'm a man. I can handle it.

The closest training facility I can find is in Steamboat Springs , Colo. , which may seem like a bit of a schlep, but consider this: the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has produced more than 60 Olympians. Of the 11 members on this year's U.S. Olympic ski-jumping team, 10 either trained or lived in Steamboat. It is the epicenter of the American ski-jumping community, not to mention a top training facility for all other winter sports, attracting people with anything from snowboards to ice skates from all over the world. If I'm serious about taking up this sport, I really have no choice but to go to Steamboat.

When I call Todd Wilson, the director of the ski-jumping program at SSWSC, to make the arrangements, he tells me that it usually takes two years to get to the point where you can hit the really big jumps. Under pressure, he admits that some have been able to do it in 10 months. As a hardworking writer, I don't have that kind of time. I need the condensed version. "I have three days to devote to this undertaking," I tell him.

"We can start you out on the beginner jump, for sure," Wilson says, sounding unfazed by my enthusiasm.

"What does it look like?" I ask.

"It's a bump in the snow."

"Will I fly through the air?"

"You might get a few feet off the ground."

"I was thinking of something a little grander, actually."

Wilson goes on to explain that the "grander" jumps involved hurtling 63 miles per hour down the ramp and flying as far as 800 feet.

"If you have no idea what you're doing, yeah, it's dangerous," he says. He suggests I contact Pat Arnone, the President of Steamboat's Gelandesprung Jumping Association, a group of "crazy guys who jump off Nordic ski jumps in their alpine skis."

"Yeah, we encourage newcomers," Arnone tells when I call him at his office in Steamboat. "We had a fatality out in Durango a while back, and that kind of chilled the sport out, so we're always looking for new people to bring in and grow the sport."

The main difference between Nordic and Gelandesprung jumpers is that Nordic skiers jump in cross-country skis. Their toes are attached to the skis but their heels are free, allowing them to become more aerodynamic than Gelandesprung jumpers by leaning further forward. Gelandesprung jumpers, on the other hand, can't lean forward without flipping. As a result, they catch the full force of the wind and drop like shotgunned birds.

The bright side is that Gelandesprunging is a lot more accessible because many people already have alpine gear. In fact, every Tuesday night Arnone runs a clinic in Steamboat to teach people the fine art of Gelandesprunging. All they need are a pair of downhill skis and 10 bucks.

"Basically, you don't want to land on your back," he says, going over some of the information he covers in the clinic. "We had a guy last year who landed on his back, and his face went through his skis. That was bad. He bled, but that's part of the sport. If you're not bleeding, you're not doing it right."

Now, I don't mind a few scratches here and there, but slamming my face through solid objects is not my idea of a fun thing to do in the winter. I wouldn't even do it in the summer.

"The plus side to all this is that there's a lot of money involved in Gelandesprung," Arnone continues. "There are contests all over the West in the winter, and the purses can get pretty big. In Missoula they have as much as $10,000 to give out. First place nets you $2,500."

Hmmm. This could be a moneymaking venture and a winter hobby.

"It's an unbelievable rush to be standing at the top of a jump," Arnone adds, sensing my increased sensitivity to his pitch. "Anytime you're hitting 60-plus miles an hour on a pair of skis, you're getting into a whole different ballgame, and not too many people have that experience, particularly when you throw a jump in front of them."

Damn it, I'm in. I tell Pat that I'll be there on the first Tuesday there's snow on the ground. I'm instructed to prepare by doing squats and standing on the edge of my roof, which stands about 40 feet above the street. So if you're walking around North Beach one day and you see a skinny blond guy teetering on the edge of a rooftop, don't worry – I'm not jumping. Not yet anyway.