SALISBURY — Up the skiers walked, climbing 246 steps to reach the pinnacle of the 70-meter hill before jumping all the way down, at Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s 95th annual JumpFest and U.S. Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships.
About 30 jumpers, mostly between the ages of 12 and 19, competed in event over the weekend. All participants traveled to Satre Hill in Salisbury from professional jumping programs in upstate New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.
On Saturday afternoon, Robert McGraw, the event’s medical director, said JumpFest has been impacted by COVID-19, but there were safety measures taken to help prevent the spread of the disease.
“In prior years, we’ve had several thousand people here,” he said. “Now, we limited it to 400 people inside at a time.”
As one person leaves, another was allowed inside. According to McGraw, there were no more than 20 people waiting outside the gates Saturday afternoon at one time.
“We’re doing everything in our power to have this event run safely, inside and outside the fence,” he said.
The event was live-streamed this year for the first time.
“We are the only event because of COVID that the kids have had in the East. So, the kids are very excited to finally get out and jump,” said Kenny Barker, president of the Salisbury Winter Sports Association.
“A lot of them haven’t jumped in a year. A lot have been jumping, but not jumping in front of anybody, so it’s the first time they can compete against one another in a very long time.”
He added ski jumping is “about as socially distanced of a sport you can find. You’re all by yourself in the air.”
He said spectators were grateful they could attend an in-person event.
“The weather has been good and after a year, everybody pretty much understands socially distancing and not grouping up,” he said. “People were ready to get outside, there’s nothing that’s in any sort of a building here.”
According to Barker, ski jumping is a sport where skiers return, after having jumped many years ago, when they were young. They jump right into their late 20s.
“Whether they’re in Connecticut or they’re in New Hampshire or Maine, since they’re little children, they meet at these meets and they know each other the rest of their lives,” Barker said.
He said the 70-meter hill is considered mid-level — one step below the Olympic-sized hill, which is 90 and 120 meters.
“So it’s a progression when you start out at these little hills, then you jump a larger and larger hill,” Barker said.
Jumping off the big hill is more about one’s ability than age, according to Barker.
“There are kids that after two years have gone off to the big one — if you’re a good skier, and mentally, you have it together,” he said.
Ski jumper Cameron Forbush, 15, of Norwich, Vt., has been skiing for seven years and competing at JumpFest for several years.
“I came here for the small hills, and then it evolved into something bigger,” he said.
Skylar Clapp, 14, of New Hampshire, said this was his fifth year at the competition.
“I’m really tall in the air,” he said. “I’m going to try to move forward and go far.”
Competing for his second year was Matt White, 19, from Lake Placid, N.Y., who said his personal challenge is “getting my in-run set down so I can move from it off my takeoff — that is my main struggle right now, so I can get in that good flight position and carry down the hill.”
Cameron Summerton, 18, of New Hampshire, said his goal was to “keep my skis underneath, get as much lift as possible, to go as far as I can.”
He added that he loves the big hill. “It’s very high-flying and you can go a lot farther on it than you can expect,” he said.
While it is a competition, he said, at this point in his career, he mainly want to try his best and have fun.
“Everyone we jump with we’ve known for five or six years now,” Summerton said. “It’s really good to see everybody again with everything that’s going on in the world.”
For more information, visit www.JumpFest.org.