A large crowd of spectators filled the valley on Feb. 2 and 3 as skiers soared off the Snowflake Ski Hill at the 95th Snowflake Ski Jump in Timber Coulee.
They watched as Nik Fabijan of Slovenia won the US Cup-5 Hills open division on Friday night and Elias Vanska of Finland won on Saturday.
The enthusiastic crowd at the base of the hill was prepared for whatever Old Man Winter had in store for them. Temperatures reached 15 degrees on Friday, but fell quickly Friday night for the “Under the Light” jump, which still drew a large crowd despite the bitter cold. Bonfires were roaring and had plenty of people gathered around them to stay warm.
On Saturday, temperatures reached into the 20s and snow began to fall halfway into the competition. The crowd was larger than normal, with plenty of kids finding unique ways to have fun, while adults socialized, enjoyed wagon rides, feasted on grilled ribeye and pork sandwiches from the food stand, sipped on refreshments at the tiki bar, hovered around the bonfires, took advantage of tailgating opportunities, and made plenty of noise as skiers soared off the hill.
Spectators began rolling into the valley shortly before opening ceremonies both days. Open ceremonies was filled with local and visiting royalty, along with area dignitaries who welcomed people to the event. Last year’s Snowflake Ski Queen Sharice Elbert was honored to have been asked to return to the podium in 2018, where she flawlessly sang the National Anthem both days.
The Tomah VA brought a group of veterans to the event on Saturday. They anxiously waited for the competition to begin as some of them sat wrapped in blankets in their lawn chairs, while others mingled with the crowd.
Army veteran Tyler Schmitz of La Crosse did one tour in Afghanistan and said he would do another tour overseas before you’d catch him throwing himself off the side of a hill. Schmitz has snowboarded in the past, but prefers to have his feet grounded.
“Throwing yourself off the side of a hill doesn’t make sense to me, but if they want to do it I’ll watch them. I just won’t join them,” Schmitz said.
Ben Vehrs of Waupaca has completed two tours in Afghanistan with the Army and was elated to attend the Snowflake Ski Jump. For Vehrs the trip was bittersweet in that it allowed him to honor his father, a fellow veteran, who has since passed away. His father was a Navy medic in Vietnam and some of Vehrs’ favorite memories are of the times he spent with his father watching ski jumps when he was a young boy.
“Watching kids flying off those hill is an inspiration. It sparks happy memories for me,” Vehrs’ said.
Both veterans said they appreciated the free entry buttons provided by Logistics Health to attend the ski jump and would definitely come back again.
A large tailgating group from the Stoughton, 32 strong, returned to Westby again this year. Some of the members of the group have been making the Westby Ski Jump a destination stop for the past two decades and each year they try to increase the caravan numbers in the Snowflake Express.
The group said the social aspect all weekend was amazing and when you get this many Norwegians together in one place the end result is guaranteed laughter and forever memories.
August “Augie” Schini, of La Crosse and a member of the Snowflake Ski Club participated on Friday and Saturday in the Under 20 Male Class. Schini has been strapped in skies since he was 16 month old, but has only been ski jumping for the past three years. He attended a Snowflake Ski Jump several years ago with his father and was so taken with the idea of jumping off the Snowflake hill that he began training to become a ski jumper. Two years later he soared of the big hill in Westby as a competitor in 2017 and is looking forward to more years of competition.
On Saturday, Schini and a group of fellow jumpers, Ben Kaiser, Erik Gessner and Noah Pollard, were brainstorming on how to invent a warmer ski boot. They said their feet were freezing as they waited for the courtesy truck to take them back to the top of the hill and with one round of competition to go, they all wanted to go soar further.
Pollard has been ski jumping for 13 years and hoped to hit 108 meters on his final jump. Schini has three years of jumping under his skies and was hoping to hit 100 meters. Ben Kaiser has been jumping for eight years and wanted to outdo them both at 115 meters. Gessner on the other hand just wanted to stay upright and land on his feet and with weather conditions quickly deteriorating the he was the only one to achieve his goal.
Mollie Immens was the lone female jumper in Westby last year. She returned this year with a teammate, Kailey Bickner. Immens said she loves the old school hill at Snowflake, which allows skiers to get great height on take-off. Bickner said she liked the hill as well, but admitted she was apprehensive since it was her first year jumping on the big hill in Westby and the experience is much different here.
Former Westby resident Heath Meyer was home visiting family and brought his family to the event on Saturday. The jump was a hit with his wife Kari and children, Kade, Kort and Aubrey, but the family pet, Max, was having a doggone lot of fun.
Gram Bean wanted his dad, Nathan to skip the ski jump and take him on a horse-drawn wagon rides instead. It was the same situation for Kurt Scott of La Crosse who brought his daughters to the jump, but they both preferred sledding to watching the main event.
That was not the case for many newcomers to Snowflake who were in awe of the ski jumpers. The Perl family from West Salem, Eric, Nahla and Aga took plenty of selfies with the ski hill in the background to remember the event. Their daughter Aga had the best view of the jumpers sitting on her father’s shoulders. Nahla, who was born in Poland, where ski jumping is a major sport, but she admitted she never saw it up close until she came to Westby.
Rick and Lisa Wanless of Richland Center said they will be back. They both enjoyed watching the jumpers, but Lisa, who has somewhat of a hat fetish, was amazed by all the wonderful attire on spectator’s heads. Rick said he was shocked at how many people were there.
Jeff Stoleson of Westby was decked out in his animal skin hat and gloves. He has been attending the ski jump for years and was raised
jumping himself. He continued the practice until age 18, at which time his thrill of jumping stopped when he discovered women and booze. If nothing else he says he’s honest.
The 95th Snowflake Ski Jump became a memorable event for two Westby girls when they received marriage proposals. Loni Olstad was asked by her now fiancé to marry him on Friday evening at the top of the hill and Ryan Jankowski popped the question to Amy Kotek on Saturday during opening ceremonies. Both young ladies said YES!
Kudos to the entire Snowflake Ski Club organization and all the volunteers for keeping the long standing tradition alive. See you at the 96th Snowflake Ski Jump in 2019.