Imagine soaring 55 miles per hour through the air before landing anywhere from 200 to 400 feet from where you took off and skiing down a hill when you finally come to a stop to a chorus of cowbells and car horns.
Cowbells and car horns? Yep, cowbells and car horns.
Every year, tens of thousands of spectators gather to watch world-class ski jump athletes participate in the International Ski Federation (FIS) Ski Jump Continental Cup tournament at the Pine Mountain Ski Jump in Iron Mountain.
Dubbed one of the U.P.’s biggest tailgate events, the 2023 FIS Ski Jumping Continental Cup tournament takes place March 3-5. More than 40 jumpers from eight countries will be competing this year.
The Pine Mountain Ski Jump is the largest in the United States that is explicitly used for ski jumping and not ski flying. The 176-foot jump sits on top of a 632-foot-high hill with a total ride length of 1032 feet. It is known as one of the best ski jumps in the world, with many ski jumpers saying it is one of the most challenging hills due to the combination of elevation and wind.
In 2020, a $2.1 million investment was made to replace the wooden in-run and scaffolding with new steel scaffolding and a new TopSpeed fiberglass in-run. In total, $3.4 million has been invested into upfitting the jump so the Kiwanis Ski Club can continue hosting the Continental Cup competitions. 2023 marks the second competition on the new jump.
What you don’t see during the competition is all of the hard work that goes into pulling off a professional sports event of this scale. The Kiwanis Ski Club is a group of dedicated volunteers that do it all, from preparing the hill and tournament grounds to preparing meals and securing sponsorships.
A 2019 economic analysis completed by the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance indicates the event drives over $1.5 million in positive impact to the area’s economy, which largely benefits area hospitality and retail businesses.
Months before the tournament, volunteers are busy maintaining the grounds and securing sponsorships so the club can bring in ski jumpers from all over the world. Weeks before the event, the group spends days making snow for the hill and the landing and keeping the stairs and line judge platforms clear of snow.
In the days leading up, pine branches are placed at key intervals on the hill to help jumpers with depth perception when looking down as they prepare to land. The in-run track also needs to be prepared and frozen.
To prepare the track, volunteers mix clean snow and water to make a wet slush and pack it into the track. The new in-run has a built-in refrigeration system that will keep the tracks frozen for the duration of the contest. The old wooden in-run would take weeks to prep, and one warm day would risk the event.
Working in cold temperatures, the all-volunteer club does it for the love of the sport. Many of the volunteers grew up watching, and some were ski jumpers themselves, including some U.S. Olympic Team members from right here in Iron Mountain.
For locals, going to “The Jumps” is a tradition. Many families have reserved the same tailgating spot for generations.
The most well-known tailgate space – The Sugar Shack – is one of the spaces passed down from generation to generation. Situated in the front row, the temporary
warming structure is fully enclosed and has a furnace that keeps it at a balmy temperature. The Sugar Shack isn’t open to the public, but the Popple Palace is and has food and drink available for purchase. Local nonprofit Moving Mountains Adaptive Ski program volunteers help with food and beverage sales.
In addition to private tailgates, businesses host employees, customers and other guests at their tailgating spaces. As with all good tailgates, food and drink are abundant. From deep-fried turkeys to grilled pizzas to your standard bratwurst on a bun, you’ll be amazed at the inventiveness of some of the spectators. Rumor has it that a new local company may even be debuting its mobile sauna.
It is the single largest event in Dickinson County each year. It attracts spectators from all over the country and the world, and the number of spectators rivals World Cup-size crowds. The visiting jumpers are thrilled to have spectators that show up to watch and cheer them on, which is not typical of European ski jump competitions.
Tickets come in the form of a button that is proudly worn on outerwear during the event. So, are you ready to experience the finest ski jumping in the world? Grab your button at www.kiwanisskiclub.com/buttons.