So you think you can be the next Simon Ammann, the resurgent Swiss ski-jumping sensation. Perhaps you ought to first think about becoming the next Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the endearingly hapless yet perseverant British ski jumper of the 1980s. After all, just because Ammann and his rivals make ski jumping look easy on TV coverage of the Olympics doesn't mean it is easy.
Still, far be it from your friends here at The Daily Page to talk you down off the 60-meter ramp of your ambitions. Instead, allow us to point you toward Middleton's Blackhawk Ski Club, where jumps of five, 15, 30 and 60 meters jut up from the ridge that overlooks the landing hill.
Established in 1947 by local ski-jumping enthusiasts, Blackhawk has become one of North America's premiere destinations for the discipline. It has produced three Olympians, including current coach Kurt Stein, a veteran of the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehammer games. And while the club has expanded to 60 acres encompassing Alpine and Nordic skiing and other winter sports that involve strapping planks to your feet, it continues to introduce people to ski jumping with programs for ages five and up.
Starting with fundamental exercises on the landing hill, newcomers to the discipline progress from there to the five-meter jump as their skills and comfort levels advance. The progression continues to the 15-meter jump, then 30, then 60, as dictated by each individual's ability and ambition.
Blackhawk is also home to a ski jumping team that practices twice a week on snow in winter and on plastic in spring and fall. The club hosts a winter tournament on Sunday, Jan. 31. Many of its members compete at the winter edition of the Badger State Games, and travel to other competitions throughout Wisconsin and neighboring states.
Blackhawk requires club membership as a prerequisite for participation in its programs, with membership options including limited and unlimited facility use for individuals or families. Active participation is also expected, both to help maintain the club's facilities and to volunteer at its events and activities; parents are also expected to remain present during activities in which their kids participate, and to assist as needed. Unlimited family memberships (limited to 300 to avoid overcrowding) are sold out for the 2009-10 season, but other options include unlimited single and limited family memberships (each $175), with limited single and student rates at $100 and $60, respectively.
Additional fees are levied for equipment rental, classes and other activities, but are not out of line with what you might expect to pay for gear and expertise in any other sport. And it is difficult to imagine another sport that affords such unique opportunity. Veteran ski jumpers talk about the sport in terms of adrenaline, but also physical and mental discipline, patience and focus.
One more point of access: The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner may afford the greatest clarity and insight into the sport's appeal to its participants. Though dated, Werner Herzog's 1974 documentary about Swiss jumper Walter Steiner (a silver medalist at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics) finds the sweet spot where exhilaration and apprehension converge to create the kind of rapturous joy that is all but unique to ski jumping.