Jump the length of what now? That’s right: ski jumping is a sport where skiers go down a take-off ramp, jump, and attempt to land as far as possible down the hill below—often spending 5-7 seconds in the air and travelling at speeds of 60mph. It’s a sport that always captures people’s interest at the Winter Games, showcasing a terrific display of physics in action. The winner of the competition is decided by the length of their jump and style, and the feats that athletes at the top of the sport are jaw dropping.
Sound intriguing? Let’s find out more.
History of Ski Jumping
Who do we have to thank for this awe-inspiring sport? A Norwegian lieutenant named Olaf Rye. Rye is the first known ski jumper, and in 1809 in Morgedal, Norway, he jumped 30 feet into the front of his fellow soldiers. Let’s check out a few fast facts about the history of ski jumping:
- In 1866 the term “ski jumpers” was coined and more and more athletes were trying out their jumping skills. Growing in popularity in Norway, a Norwegian skier by the name of Sondre Norheim jumped over 98 feet (without poles!) over a rock—and his record stood for three decades.
- About nine years later, the first official competition was held in Trysil, Norway, and that same year a national version of the event took place at the capital in Oslo.
- By 1892 the national event moved to Holmenkollen, due to its poor infrastructure and the weather conditions. It continues to be the epicenter of worldwide venues for ski jumping.
- In 1924, ski jumping became a part of the Olympic Winter Games since the first Games in Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France. The sport has is featured at every Olympics since.
- Norwegian immigrant Nels Nelsen brought Ski jumping to Canada. A top support of the sport, he designed the ski hill on Mount Revelstoke, where ski jumping competitions were held under his watch every year from 1915 to 1959. He is considered the father of the ski jumping sport in Canada.
- Revelstoke’s was the biggest natural ski jump hill in Canada and known internationally as the best in North America. The last ski jumping event held in 1975, and since then the venue has since fallen into disrepair.
What Are Ski jumping Hills?
Located on a steep slope, a ski jumping hill consists of the jumping ramp (in-run), take-off table, and a landing hill. Skiers ski down from a point at the top of the in-run, gaining momentum as they reach the take-off table, where they “take off” or jump from, flying through the air at insane speeds. The impressive feat doesn’t end there—while in the air, they keep their bodies and skis in an aerodynamic position to help with the length of their jump.
Skiers then land on a specified area that is followed by an out-run. An Out-run is an area that slowly flattens out so that the skier can safely slow down, and the winner is determined by several factors, with the main two being jump length and the style and skill of the skier.
Different Ski Jumping Techniques
There are four different types of ski jumping techniques, but every jump is divided into four parts: in-run, take-off (jump), flight, and the landing.
The V-style is the most recently developed technique and the most popular. Popularized by Swedish ski jumper Jan Boklöv in the mid-1980s, modern-day skiers can jump about 10% more distance than the most classical techniques like the Kongsberger, Däescher and the Windisch techniques.
Before the V-style was created, ski jumpers came down the in-run of the hill with both arms pointing forwards. This technique was transformed numerous times, and eventually into the V-style has been most widely used.
What’s a V-style? After the skier jumps, the ski tips spread outwards in a highly aerodynamic “V” shape, and gained popularity in the 1990s.
Ski Jumping Gets More Extreme: Ski Flying
Isn’t ski jumping already extreme and basically flying on skis? Yes, and no.
Ski Flying is an extreme version of ski jumping, but both are seen as extreme sports on their own. Although the difference between the sports is subtle, it’s all about the extended length of the jump that can be achieved. Ski flying started in the 1930s and 40s, however, there are only five remaining ski flying hills left in all of Europe.
What sets sky flying and ski jumping apart is that the former’s hills are constructed to different hights and specifications, giving skiers the launching pad to literally “fly” at greater lengths than ski jumping allows. In fact, those the distances have increases 66%, which is quite amazing!
What helps increase those distances to that extent? Besides the hight and specifications, there is a stronger emphasis on harnessing the wind along with aerodynamics, which helps athletes fly much higher and faster than in ski jumping.
Let’s get into the numbers…
The first man in history to land a jump over 100 metres (330 ft) was 18-year-old Austrian Josef “Sepp” Bradl in 1936. Setting the world record at at 330 feet in length, his world record was set at Bloudkova velikanka (“Bloudek giant”) in Slovenia, which had been completed just two years earlier in 1934 by engineers Stanko Bloudek, Ivan Rožman and Joso Gorec.
After seeing Bradl’s jump, Stanko Bloudek said, “That was no longer ski jumping. That was ski flying!” giving life to the sport of Ski flying. The rest is history, as they say, with the media promoting the impossible jumps and sensational ski flying around the world.
Using Physics To Ski
So much can affect how a jump will go -from equipment choices and wind speed to athletes’ own bodies, physics are constantly at play and the changes of a successful jump can change in a matter of minutes. To combat this, there are a lot of regulations and changes during the competition. Officials may move the starting point up or down the slope, adjusting it depending on the wind speed. If the winds gain speed, that could help a ski jumper jump farther—so far out, they would miss the carefully planned safe landing zone and crash. Everything needs to be calculated to ensure that landing the longest jump doesn’t lead to an extreme injury, or death.
The length of the skis themselves are also important. It’s regulated to skier’s height and weight, and most skis can be 145% of the skier’s height. The longer the ski, the more lift you need to create in order to stay in the air longer.
Skiing isn’t for everyone, and ski jumping (and flying) is for the select few athletes that embrace the physical power that it takes to fulfill these massive feats of sport.