The Mashup Of An Obscure Winter Sport And Epic Tailgate Party Make Ski Jumping A Unique Tradition In The U.P.


The Mashup Of An Obscure Winter Sport And Epic Tailgate Party Make Ski Jumping A Unique Tradition In The U.P.

Imagine a meeting at the United Nations.

But with a two-day supply of beer and cognac. Bratwurst. Rich bikers ensure security.

Then let the little ones jump off the giant sled and fly 400 feet in the air for fun.

It's the annual Continental Cup ski jumping event in the border town of Iron Mountain in upper Michigan, where the flags of Norway, Finland and Italy fly and fans often wear red and white scarves with the words "POLSKA" written on them. .

Here, family and class reunions overlap with company events. The traditions of rulership were passed from grandfathers to parents and children. Winter-weary rest and local businesses rejoice.

And all of this happens while the jingling of money and bells heralds a terrifying 15-second flight.

"You have to come to Iron Mountain to see the greatest sporting event you've ever seen," said former NFL coach Steve Mariucci when asked how he would explain his hometown event to the NFL Network affiliate .

"You have to come to Iron Mountain to see what a crazy sport it is because these skiers are just as crazy as the soccer players.

"It's amazing and it's the biggest celebration in the upper peninsula every year and it's amazing."

Over and beyond. You know Steve Mariucci from the NFL. But did you know that he skied?

Pine Mountain's all-volunteer championship is world-renowned.

It is also incredible that the event, scheduled for March 3-5 this year, is being organized by volunteers.

Although Pine Mountain Ski Resort is privately owned, the ski jumps are owned by Dickinson County and leased to the non-profit Kiwanis Ski Club. Core members work year-round, and hundreds band together on weekends to do everything from selling tickets to hill maintenance to runway marking.

The club works with the International Ski Federation, which manages the North and Central American ski divisions. The Confederations Cup is the second stage of the international ski jumping competition every year after the World Cup.

"In my opinion, this is the best continental tournament that takes place every year," Slovenian jumper Ziga Ilar said in an email interview. "It's a special place with great staff and fans."

Gellar is competing in the World Cup this season and her home country is hosting the World Ski Championships this weekend, so she won't be in Sosno this year. But he has fond memories of finishing first, second and third in three events last year and a video he shared on Instagram of him standing on the side of a motorway and telling truck drivers to honk their horns.

"It was amazing," Gellar said of his experience with Iron Mountain. "It's great to see so many people cheering us on and having fun. Competing there was a (great) experience. They're different in a good, crazy way."

The ski jumping culture at Iron Mountain goes back several generations

Ski jumping originated in Norway in the early 19th century and gained popularity in the United States around the turn of the century in places like Red Wing, Minnesota, and Ishpeming, Michigan.

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The Pine Mountain Ski Jumps were built by the Works Progress Administration and the first championship was held in 1939.

Lyle Boucher first raced in 1949 at the age of 7 and competed from 1959 to 1963 after training on the many small hills in the area.

"We had little jumps all over the woods," says Boucher, who grew up in nearby Kingsford and now lives in Muconagh.

“We took old Christmas trees, filled them with snow and left. There were half a dozen in the Kingsford Heights area. They can jump a maximum of 10 or 20 feet. We did that in winter, we got out. House and sleigh in the forest."

According to the 2018 book History of Ski Jumping in the Kingsford Iron Mountain Area, in addition to the large ski jump, there were many smaller ski jumps in the area with names like Devil's Hill, Valley Hill, "Myron-Ski-Bowl" and "Small and Large ". Lightning. Researched and written by retired dentist John Dugavita.

The Kiwanis Ski Club also competed in the UP and Northern Wisconsin Series championships.

Although the United States competes with European sports powers in international competition, competitions at the regional and national levels continue regularly in Westby and Eole, Wisconsin. Seek. Fox River Grove, Illinois; and many similar establishments in the upper Midwest.

"I've seen some of these kids go from the 20-meter ski jump to Olympic teams," said Boucher, secretary of the Central Ski Division. "That makes me so proud."

Olympians jumped off Pine Mountain along with many local athletes.

For the average American sports fan of a certain age, the ABC Wide World Sports prequel episode "The Agony of Defeat," which ran from the 1960s through the 1990s, can still evoke an unforgettable ski jumping experience. Fans can watch the Olympics every four years.

Longtime visitors to the Pine Mountain competition will know the names of local jumpers Willie Erickson, Dick Rajo and Butch Oden, a member of the 1960 US Olympic team; Mark Konopak, a national champion in the 1980s; Teresa Altabelli, who became the first woman to jump from Pine Mountain in 1978; and Nita Englund of nearby Spread Eagle, Wisconsin, who competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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More than 60 years after Boucher climbed the great hill, he vividly recalls the details.

“A slightly older gentleman, Butch Owen, went with me first and I remember him because his bindings would shake whenever he came down the ski slope. He kept my nerves at a decent level," said Boucher.

"I'm coming down. It was so easy I thought as I stopped at the end of the hallway. Wow, that wasn't so bad. It was a little longer than I'm used to. , my heart lifted."

The winning jump at Pine Mountain's first championship was 78 meters (256 feet). During Butcher's tenure, the hill record reached 96 meters (315 ft) and now stands at 144 meters (472 ft).

Skiing at Pine Mountain also has a long tradition.

At least one day of practice and two days of jumping make up the Pine Mountain event.

But there is a solemn event, and there is everything else.

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Participants gather around the campfire and in small booths near the tailgate among the thousands of cars and trucks that fill the parking lot.

"They plan it year after year, whether it's a family reunion, class reunion, company outing or whatever," said Susie Fox, a high school figure skating champion and former professional golfer who is a pen pal at Kiwanis Ski Club. the last". This is their Super Bowl.

“I often think that sometimes there are competing parties. Who has the best food, who decorates their place better? But everyone has different reasons for being there. Ski jumping is an excuse."

Many of these donkeys seem to have met Mariucci, who she still visits every few years.

"I just like eating donuts and hot dogs when I get out and see everyone," Mariucci said, laughing at his reputation as a man.

Jeff Minnerley, a carpenter at West Ellis, recalls walking through the gate unsupervised with a friend to meet the former coach. While Mariucci was looking for the official passport hanging around their necks, he was shown a beer.

"He said. 'I like it,'" said Minerli, who wore a bowler hat and Elvis sunglasses. He was very nice and nobody got arrested."

Love's wedding booth out the back door

Gina Langsford started jumping as a teenager. Now his children have children.

She and her husband Steve and friends Joe and Patty Brunzik host friends and strangers in a cozy makeshift home just yards off Pine Mountain Road.

The Luv Shack, as they call it, lived up to its name when it was chosen by a couple as their wedding venue a few years ago.

"People stayed with us and we took them in, and they didn't just go somewhere to keep warm, they stayed," said Langsford, who offers them food and drink.

So this couple came back this year and said, "Hey, remember us?"

No, nobody really did.

"They said we want to get married at the Love Shack today," Langsford continued. "We mean, seriously?

“So they had someone who was licensed. She had a veil and all and they had a small group of people so they played the wedding at the Luv Shack. And then they partied with us all day."

Ribs, Dean and Ronald Theater

Minerly travels from the Milwaukee area each year for the races with his longtime roommate, who introduced him to the event. Friend Ron Nemelo returned to Upper Michigan and settled in Vulcan, a small town about 15 miles from Iron Mountain.

Last year, Steve Lyman, pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Iron Mountain, where Nemela attends services, and Richard, Lyman's father, who lives in Janesville, joined the fire.

This year, Minerly and Najmela will have a new shelter with yellow plastic windows salvaged from a McDonald's casino. Minerly also plans to take his new ribs to the smoker.

"It's people giving things away, it's incredible. People bake pies and give them out to people," Minnerly said, referring to the meat and vegetable pies that were made into buns. “You are invited to everything. – Come here and drink. Come here and listen to music. It's very open, friendly and great."

"You meet all kinds of people from everywhere… Then sometimes you can go up and talk to the skaters. They come from different countries. That's the great thing about it. Everything seems to have come from somewhere."

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Word of mouth brings thousands of fans and millions of dollars

After a winter hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox estimates that the 2022 Leaps and Boundaries series drew viewers from about 20 states.

According to Dave Kasten, director of the Dickinson County Tourism Association, the tourism association sells products primarily along the freeway from Chicago to Milwaukee and Green Bay, as well as in Minneapolis and the Lower Peninsula. However, most visitors hear about the tournaments and backyard parties through word of mouth.

During last year's tournament, Castin was at a restaurant with a group from California.

"They happened to be in the area, saw an ad for this product and said, 'Let's try it,' and they loved it," Kasten said. "For people who have never been to this place, they're just curious."

The Kiwanis Ski Club wants to bring competition back into the World Cup cycle but needs to add millions of dollars in infrastructure after taking out a loan two years ago to rebuild the slide. Although viewers are unlikely to notice the difference, the World Cup will attract more European and expat visitors and draw attention to Iron Mountain on an international scale.

"It's a tourism engine," said Fox, 27, a member of the club. And active, economically important tourism.

The flights have already had an economic impact of more than $1.5 million in the community, according to Lois Ellis, executive director of the Dickinson Area Economic Development Coalition. This is an indispensable marinade, especially in winter.

"It's very hard to find another event in our backcountry with 10,000+ viewers, so it's also unique because it's a viewer activity, not a participant activity," said Ellis.

"Although I do like to tell people to jump off the hill when they have no idea what you're talking about because they think they should jump off the hill. You always look a bit worried.

Jumping Pine Mountain is definitely a YES

Ski jumping is a niche sport even among skiers, and Upper Michigan, with its largest city in Marquette and a population of more than 20,000, can sometimes seem like a remote outpost.

For the most part, Pine Mountain's jumps only get much attention in the local daily news and quickly appear on TV from northern Wisconsin or Upper Michigan.

"For many years, this alpine ski championship was kept top secret," said Altspringer Boucher.

Some people are born to imitate. Others learned from friends or found. As quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers in the early 1990s, Mariucci led assistants Sherman Lewis, Nolan Cromwell, Gil Haskell and Andy Reid to championships.

"I always tell people if you're walking around, you'll hear different languages ​​if you're paying attention," said Ellis, president of the Economic Alliance. "There are fans who follow their foreign players and watch the tournament, so it's unique in that regard.

"I just don't know how you're going to play it. It's an imitation."

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