Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salisbury, CT (with photos)

If you're ever in the area of Salisbury, CT in early February, take some time out to attend the Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships that are part of the annual JumpFest ski jumping festival hosted by the Salisbury Winter Sports Association. This is a long standing event in Salisbury that celebrates everything about ski jumping.

I remember the only other time that I attended a ski jumping event very well. My Dad took me to see it at Bear Mountain State Park when I was young. Bear Mountain was a popular venue for regional ski jumping back then.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We were able to walk around the landing area to see the jumpers when they hit the bottom of the hill and ran down the run-out. But perhaps more exciting was when we hiked all the way up the side of the jumping hill to stand next to the ramp where the skiers took off. I'll never forget the whooshing sound of the skis on the snow when they went by and then the silence when they took off over our heads to fly down the hill. Great stuff!

Sadly, Bear Mountain stopped hosting jumping events back in the early 1990's. If you visit the jumping site when you're at Bear Mountain today, all you can see is a rough path through the woods where the jumping hill used to be and the skeleton of what remains of the wooden scoring shack halfway up the hill.  I've included some pictures of the current condition of the old jumping site here.

Back to Salisbury...The spirit of the event catches you as soon as you park your car. You can hear announcements coming over a public address system through the woods, but you can't see the hill at all from where you park. You pay a nominal fee to get through the entrance gate and then hike up a small road to get to the festival area.

It's a comfortable and enjoyable scene as soon as you see it. There is, of course, the 65-meter jumping hill front and center. Off to the side are the skiers' hut and food stands. Several large bonfires burn to keep people warm. People are sitting on lawn chairs in the snow and bleachers waiting for the main event. It's a festive environment.

Then you notice the sounds. People laughing and talking. Announcements being made. And cowbells. Everyone has a cowbell. I didn't realize what this was for at first, but I obviously heard that everyone rang them loudly every time a skier did a jump.

The reason why people shake the cowbells instead of clapping for the jumpers is actually quite funny, and it didn't occur to me at first. People wear gloves in the winter, and when you clap you can't hear it! Certainly the skiers can't hear it at the top of the hill. So someone, somewhere, way back when came up with the idea of shaking a cowbell to make a loud sound for the skiers to show appreciation and encouragement. The skiers can certainly hear hundreds of cowbells rattling when they're at the top of the hill, which is a noisy form of encouragement for a good jump.

Our kids were thrilled when they found out they could buy one of the bells, so we promptly went to the cowbell vendor and bought two of them....A pink one for Nicole, and a red one for John. They carried them proudly the rest of the day.

The jumping itself was cool. One by one the skiers started from the top of the hill, went down the lead-in hill, and flew off the ramp. Some didn't get very far, but many of the more experienced jumpers soared for several seconds way down the hill and landed with a satisfying thump when they hit the bottom. The whole scene made me imagine what it must be like when these events are held at the Olympics or at the mountains in Europe.

When the jumping was over, we headed over to the ice carving competition on the lawn of the White Hart Inn in town. The White Hart itself is a quaint little inn on the green in town, and it's the perfect place to enjoy a few cocktails after a day of wandering around at the ski jumping event. We watched the artists doing their carvings, had a few drinks in the inn, and then stayed to watch the carving awards get handed out.

All in all, it was a nice way to spend a day with the family. There was a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. Give it a try if you ever have the chance, either at Salisbury or a ski jumping hill near you. You'll walk away with a smile on your face and a good memory.

Click the image below to see some photos from this trip...

JumpFest 2009

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