It’s quite amazing to watch a person ski jump, as he or she flies off a huge ramp and remains airbound, bent almost parallel to the position of the skis before landing in snow many feet below the takeoff point. Combining great athleticism, sheer daring, and physical strength, ski jumping remains a popular winter sport, especially in Northern Europe and Japan. Both yearly World Cup and Olympic ski jump competitions are held, and make for fascinating viewing.
Norwegians held the first ski jump competition in 1862, only proper since ski jumping originates as a sport in Norway. Today, competitions are held all over the world, primarily during the winter. The sport was historically primarily dominated by male performers, though there are some notable women jumpers. Now both men and women compete in the International Ski Federation's Ski Jumping World Cup.
The distance of the ski jump can vary, based on the competition. Measured as the distance between takeoff and K point, it will generally be either 295.28 feet (90 m), or 229.66 feet (70 m). These hills angle down at about a 30-degree angle, and skiers reach speeds of about 55.93 mph (90 kph) prior to making the jump downward.
Skiers are scored on several factors. They must reach the marked destination point, called the K point. Landing past the K point gives them greater scores, and landing prior to it lowers their score. Style can be awarded up to 20 points from each judge, and considers form in the air and landing. A skier who fails to land a jump gets few style points. Most competitions allow the skier two runs for a combined score. Another interesting competition combines ski jumping and cross country racing, called the Nordic combined.
Ski jump technique is quite different than when the sport initially originated. At first jumpers kept the skis parallel. In the 1980s, it was discovered that when the skis were held in a slight V shape with the toes pointing outward, longer jumps could be achieved. Even the best athletes today may have poor performances depending upon how the wind blows. Wind blowing behind you means there’s no way to “ride the wind.” Thus many skiers prefer a slight wind blowing toward them.
Today ski jumping is still dominated by athletes from Northern Europe and Japan, where the sport remains most popular. However, a few exceptions exist. Mike Holland of the US set a world distance record in 1985, which he held for a brief 27 minutes before a Finnish skier beat the record.