The local youth, aged 10 to 16, have combined with a few others from across Canada for the opportunity to reach new heights, literally.
Ella. Boa, Ethan Bell and Sofia Aragon of Squamish, as well as Dyllon Crawford and Tyler Sopp of Whistler, have teamed up with three ski jumpers from Calgary and one from Toronto for the trip.
Nigel Lauchlan, from the Altius Ski Club in Calgary, is coaching the group.
(Squamish coach Taylor Henrich, a two-time Olympian in nordic combined, didn’t make the trip due to flight cancellations.)
This trip was an important milestone for the corridor athletes.
Planica has seven ski jumping hills and a ski-flying hill, allowing the Canadians to get in some summer training and to progress in the jumps they can master.
Rick Smith, president of the Sea to Sky Nordics club, told The Squamish Chief it has been a fantastic experience for all involved.
Smith noted there are no opportunities for summer jumping in Canada anymore.
The jumping infrastructure in Calgary, a legacy of the 1986 Olympics, was dismantled a few years ago.
“There are no summer jumps in Canada except for our small eight-metre jump in the legacy Park in Squamish,” he said. “We do our introductory ski jump work with our kids in there. And then we have to wait until the winter before we can jump with them.”
Until this trip.
"They have had probably double the amount of jumping that they get in a single winter at home here in... 10 days," Smith said.
“We've jumped every single day; we did not have a day off."
The summer jumps in Planica have stainless steel and ceramic in-runs. Athletes land on an artificial grass turf.
There are 15, 30, 45, 60, 80, 90 and 120-metre jumps at Planica and a 240-metre flying hill. This means the athletes fly 15 or 30, or 90 metres through the air.
“It’s been a terrific progression for every one of our kids,” Smith said when reached at his hotel on July 18 as the group wrapped up their time on the hills.
“We insisted they all start on the 15-metre hill, even though every one of them has jumped 40 metres on snow in the wintertime,” Smith explained.
This is the first time the young athletes had ever been on summer jumps.
“They feel different when you land and even when you’re going down the end run,” he said.
Every one of the athletes progressed to the 30-metre jump.
Two younger athletes stayed at that height and the rest progressed to the 45-metre or to the 60-metre. Two youth jumped the 80-metre hill. Smith said he didn’t want to name who jumped what, because all the kids did so well and deserved equal recognition.
"You know, ‘awesome' is so overused that it's appropriate here," he said.
The jumpers wear neoprene suits, helmets and gloves for protection on the artificial turf should they fall. This is the same gear they wear in the winter.
An added bonus of the trip is that the youth have had the chance to spend time with the Women's Ski Jumping Canada National Team and their coaches, who train year-round in Planica.
The Canadian contingent also got to tour a bit of the region.
It is the first time in Europe for most, Smith said.
They travelled to Italy for pizza, for example, the night before Smith spoke to The Squamish Chief.
They also went to Austria to jump at other nearby hills.
Protected from world events
Smith noted that the group had to consider world events when fundraising and planning for this trip.
Had they known that COVID-19 would be once again increasing globally or that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would continue throughout their trip, they may not have gone. But, luckily, the crew has stayed COVID-19-free and the war is still far enough away that they are buffered from it.
But that doesn't mean the conflict hasn't humbled them, Smith noted.
"There are Ukrainians here that are jumping with us,' Smith said.
"Our kids have said to them, 'Well, aren't you afraid to be here?’ And the Ukrainian kids…said 'No, no. We're very happy to be here — to be out of our country right now.' That's been very interesting for the Squamish kids."
Back at home
In other Sea to Sky Nordic corridor news, work has begun on a 35-metre jump at the Squamish Sports Legacy Park.
It was part of an amenity package for a nearby development.
"We're going to have jumping for all Squamish on that jump by next summer," Smith said. "It's a 30-degree slope. And we will build the rest of it next spring. And these kids can't wait to jump on a 35-metre summer jump in their very own town next summer."
Smith noted representatives from the Sea to Sky Nordics are involved in talks about the potential Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid.
"Our input was fairly important, because we will be co-ordinating that aspect of things if the 2030 goes in and if it's successful. And so part of our request is that if the bid goes in that there'll be a legacy for Nordic sport in this corridor. And that would mean, obviously, all four of the Nordic sports getting more funding, and that includes another jump in the corridor, 60-metre jump, to add to the 35 that we're building next summer."