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SWSA Jumpfest 2011

SALISBURY — Each February, the town of Salisbury gears up for a weekend of ski jumping at Satre Hill, often the biggest event of the winter season.

This time, though, preparations began in April 2010, when the Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) began construction on a new steel ski jump to replace the vintage and somewhat rickety construction that had served the town for more than eight decades.

The new 65-meter tall jump and judging tower cost some $700,000, a substantial sum — but the new jump makes it possible for the Junior Olympics to take place here, for the first time ever, from Feb. 22 to 26.

After the extraordinary effort required of ski jump volunteers and town residents to raise the money and construct the new jump, perhaps it was fitting that SWSA got to take the first ride. The annual Jumpfest began Friday, Feb. 11, with night jumping and a chili festival.

No amount of planning can control the weather, the variable that often decides the success of the weekend. Happily for jumpers and spectators alike, the conditions were near perfect for all three days of Jumpfest, conducive to record-breaking jumps and mild enough to entice large crowds to Satre Hill.

SWSA President Ken Barker said Monday he couldn’t have been more pleased with the way Mother Nature cooperated, noting each day brought virtually optimal conditions.

“Friday night was perfect weather for the target jumps, although a little too cold for some spectators. On Saturday, the wind affected things a bit, but crowd-wise it was one of the first times ever that it was perfect on both ends, as conditions were ideal for the jumpers — both on the tower and the landing hill — and the spectators. And the warmer temperatures on Sunday didn’t affect the jumpers.”

Friday target jumps

Jumpfest veteran Andrew Bliss, 20, of the New York Ski Educational Foundation in Lake Placid, won Friday’s target jumping competition under the lights by nailing the target in the final round.

In normal ski jump competition, athletes vie to see who can sail the farthest off the tower, through the air, before touching down on the landing hill. In target jumping, the goal is to hit a specific target. On Friday, the target was set at 71 meters.

Bliss was presented with a $500 check from Churchill Brothers, the Sharon-based contracting company that took on construction of the new jump.

The next day the Salisbury Invitational Ski Jumping Competition began. Attendance was unusually high, with spectators turning out well before the competition began at 1 p.m.

“We definitely had one of our biggest Saturdays ever, in terms of ticket sales,” Barker said. “We had just under 1,100 paying spectators, and that doesn’t include children 12 and under. On Sunday, we sold 1,000 tickets. It may not have been the biggest weekend crowd in Jumpfest history, but it was certainly close.”

‘Three legs’ on the trophy

The jumping was memorable as well, with impressive flights by Bliss — who took home the silver SWSA Cup by earning his third Eastern Ski Jumping championship. The Lake Placid native became the first contestant to win the trophy since Taylor Hoffman accomplished the feat in 2003.

Before that, it had been 20 years since someone had taken it home. Jumpers have to “put three legs on the trophy,” as SWSA members put it, before they’re awarded the silver bowl.

“We were aware that Bliss had been jumping well coming into the weekend,” Barker said, “so we knew he had a shot to win it.”

Bliss also won the target jumping competition on Saturday afternoon (and a $350 cash prize in memory of Chris Leone), and set a new hill record of 73.5 meters, besting his previous record of 71.0.

Bliss, who finished first overall on both Saturday and Sunday, explained, “Setting the hill record was one of my main intents coming into the weekend. I am really excited I was able to accomplish it, especially after they did such an unbelievable job on the new tower; it’s a great feeling to have.”

Eastern U.S. Championships

Jump fans returned Sunday afternoon to watch the 65-meter Eastern U.S. Jumping Championships. Scores in this contest also counted toward qualification for the Junior Olympics for jumpers 17 years of age and younger.

Mark Breen, 42, of Rhinebeck took home first place in the Masters Class on both days. He finished at least 65 points ahead of the field on both days of competition.

In the Senior Class, Bliss finished first for the second day in a row, though not without strong competition from Zach Daniels and Spencer Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker, who was the only other jumper to surpass 70 meters during the weekend, had nothing but good things to say about the new jump in Salisbury and the atmosphere surrounding the event.

“It’s a really great hill, and much improved over the old one. It’s going to be a great spot for years to come. The crowd too was awesome, there were as many people here as I’ve ever seen. It’s great to jump in front of a big crowd, it’s inspiring for all of us.”

Sunday’s highlight though — somewhat of a blast from the past, came from Taylor Hoffman — the last jumper to win the SWSA trophy.

On a weekend dominated by Andrew Bliss, the veteran Hoffman waited until the final event to restate his legacy, winning a 70-meter target competition.

Inspired perhaps by the new jump and the excitement of the spectators, the jumpers seemed to pour on their best efforts.

Bliss offered this compliment to the town, one that is repeated year after year by the competitors: “Salisbury is one of our favorite stops on the circuit. Everyone here is so into it.”

Ladies champion Danielle Lussi agreed. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” she said.

 

Results from the 2011 Jumpfest can be found online at skijumpeast.com.

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