Luis on Ski Jumping Hill-Tournament: a very special international tour on a ski flying hill
The season 2014/15 for the ski jumpers and also our columnist Luis Holuch is over. As well as the athletes, he has made his last "competitions" in Planica. In this episode of "Luis on Ski Jumping Hill-Tournament" he is telling you what he experienced and what he has seen in Slovenia. We wish you a lot of fun at reading and we are looking forward to your feedback! Special thanks from the author go to Franci Petek (Slovenia) and Mike and Deneene LeBlanc (USA).
Luis on Ski Jumping Hill TournamentBy Ski Jumping Hill Archive author and photographer Luis Holuch
Thursday, March 19th 2015: this is not a normal Thursday. Actually, no Thursday on which Planica is scheduled is a normal Thursday for ski jumping fans. No matter, if it is ski jumping or ski flying. The name itself and the connected history and mythos cause goosebumps all over the world. And the happenings on this Thursday were neither foreseeable nor comparable to any other experiences in my life.
But first back to the basics: on late Wednesday afternoon, I finally checked in at Hotel Alpina on Kranjska Gora with my friend Brian. That also meant “happy to see you again” with my American friend Mike LeBlanc and his wife Deneene. We met each other last year for the very first time after two and a half years of Facebook-friendship. After last year’s large hill competitions due to the new-building of the ski flying hill, the goal for this year was clear: seeing a new world record in the Mecca of ski flying!
To receive a first impression concerning the possibility of this goal, I invited both of them for a short road trip to Planica. So we went into my Polo, which has now a new owner, and I drove them to Planica. Very securely, but not totally focused at all, I have to admit. The eight hours towards here plus the immense excitement effected now on my concentration. But now we stood right in front of the snow queen, the most impressive ski jumping hill in the entire world. Of course, I checked all existing photos before, but seeing this new hill live for the very first time, is totally different.
Of course, we were only able to stay next to the outrun, but we were able to notice the first and main important features of the hill. The new inrun, the completely changed slope and every other new features. But, of course there was also now the question: how far is it possible to fly? What is the last distance mark? This one was not readable with the human eye, so Mike’s iPad has come to its purpose and he said “255 is the last”. “Well, then it is not true what was said in the community on skyscrapercity. They talked about 270”, I answered a bit angry. “It does not matter as long as they can manage half a meter more than in Vikersund”, Mike said and laughed out loud. He was right, everyone would be happy with that. With this sort of a good feeling we went back to Kranjska Gora. We grabbed out accreditations and fresh up in our room. After dinner, we went to the Vopa, the bar in Kranjska Gora. It was karaoke night and after a long stay there we fell into a short sleep in our hotel.
On the next morning, we were almost just in time at 8 at Hotel Kompas where the shuttle-service brings the crowd to the hill. The training was scheduled for 9 and the qualification for 11, so we were early enough for taking the shuttle. It promised to become a sunny day, but early in the morning it was still very cold until the sun made it over the mountains. We were wearing warm jackets and stable shoes, so we made our way through a lot of fans and school classes to the FIS-Family-area, where we had access too. Today was the first day for an official world record, but we speculated more on Saturday and Sunday. Today was supposed to be the day to find out how the hill is working and who of the jumpers would be theoretically able to fly that far.
It started with the national group of Slovenia and the crowd showed for the first time, how loud it could become today. Tomaž Naglič, not known for great flying skills, opened the festival with 216 meters and was responsible for the first Planica-anthem-jingle. This became more and more a running gag or more the non-stop earworm of the weekend. The needed 210 meters became more and more “business as usual” for most of the jumpers, so the DJ had to play it all day long. Kamil Stoch was also one of the earliest (bib 9), so he was one of the guys who could maybe set high standards with great flights. Especially, because he likes flying in Planica at all. But of course, this flying hill was also new to him, so he had a soft start. He jumped 210.5 meters and the jury lowered the gate. Nobody understood even why until today. So, it took some time until the next highlight came, but it came: Gregor Schlierenzauer was the first to beat the hill size of 225 meters: he jumped 226 meters. Anže Semenić had a similar flight curve, but suddenly quit his jump at 229 meters. This was the moment when it became clear what Brian pointed out perfectly later that day: “even though the ski jump is completely new-built, it is totally Planica-like”. Also Michael Hayboeck had a good start and was on the same level as his teammate Schlierenzauer with 225.5 meters. I was really grooving into flying and the distances as I suddenly heard my name through the crowd. I turned around and saw Mike waving. “What’s up? Shall I come?”, I screamed to him. “Yeah, Franci is here, our tour is about to start”, he answered excited. I did not understand him at all, but went towards him. Before I understood what was going to happen next, I had a new accreditation and was lead through a special path.
“Franci has three passes and my wife and me only need two, so you are the chosen third person”, Mike said. Now I understood what the point was. As a special guest from the USA, Mike got the promise of the press chief of the OC Planica, Tomi Trbovc, to get free FIS Family tickets plus a guided tour, which is now to follow. Franci Petek has had a short, but very successful career as a ski jumper in the former Yugoslavia and is now working as a geographer. His function this year in Planica is to be the ambassador and so he was doing these guided tours. Although I never have seen him jumping, his name ring a bell in my memories and so it was a pleasure for me to meet him.
So, we went his way. At first we passed the VIP areas and went a bit downstairs. The noise of the crowd became less the more we went away from the area. Our first stop was the jumpers’ village in the outrun of the youth hills. Although we could not go in there, I had a feeling of being in a new world now: I am getting into a different part of life, the body is filled with adrenaline and it is just an awesome feeling I experience in these moments. It is a huge flash, mixed with pure fascination and the will to turn into a ski jumper by yourself. I cannot describe it better, but every one of you who has made similar experiences, knows what I am talking about. It also needs some time after it to get off this feeling and behavior. Actually, I experience the whole thing again, while I am writing this article.
We start walking again and make our way to the lift. The Valley Station is located among a big functional building which includes garages and changing rooms. Big solar cells are fixed on the roof, which give enough energy to run the lift. Some jumpers are waiting to take a chair in the lift. Ski jumpers can only take a chair solo, because there is only one spot for a pair of skis. So, the administrators try to fill up the empty spaces with officials, coaches or staff members. In our case, the problem is easily solved: I take a chair with Klemens Murańka from Poland and Mike shares a chair with Cene Prevc. The ride takes some time – the lift takes 200 meters of altitude including three stops on the way. I am having some small-talk with the calm Polish. He says he likes the new hill more than the old one and Planica is the best place in the world cup in his eyes – even better than Zakopane.
We pass the normal and the large hill and I take some photos from this perspective. The first stop of the lift is at the table of the normal hill, next to the co-called German tower. The second stop is at the warming-up room for large and normal hill, which was built into the mountain. This means that none of the eight hills here has its own warming-up room. Only the old flying hill had its own, but that is part of history now. We stayed in our chairs until the top. I wish Murańka best of luck as he leaves. I am waiting at the exit of the station for the others and greet the young Prevc as he passes me. The Slovenes are also staying in our hotel, so we kind of know each other.
As Franci also arrived on the top, we went to the inrun tower. For understandable reasons, we were not allowed to go in the warming-up room. We also were only allowed to whisper to not disturb anyone up here. We could not take the stairs the jumpers use either. So we went up on the opposite site of the tower. A small platform is located among the big Slovenia-flag. This is the highest point of the guided tour. The outlook is simply phenomenal: we are seeing each starting gate, the jumpers, the complete inrun, the coaches’ stand on the left and the TV-platform on the right side… and the crowd and the hundreds of busses and cars in the valley look so far away from us. To sum it up: the view downhill is less scary than on the old inrun, but of course not less stunning. While security guard has locked me out of the inrun tower, Mike was meeting the oldest person all over Planica. It is the 90-year-old flag waver, who was always watching ski flying at the take-off of the Letalnica. He is something like the mascot and the only vivid person that has seen each single ski flying here in Planica. He does not speak any English, but Mike talks to him via a translator and hears some interesting stories. This man is also a part of what Planica made so famous and popular. I wish him all the best on this way and may this guy see the 250 meters in his “living room”!
We had to change our plans a little and go down one station by the lift after the first training jump. So we go on the coaches’ stand and enjoy the community of Janus, Schuster, Kruczeck, Künzle, Stöckl, Zupan and so on… For a normal spectator, this perspective may be a nice change concerning the outlook, but actually you only see a small part of the jumps or flights. But the coaches see the most important parts: inrun, inrun position, take-off movement and first part of the flight. It is an almost perfect position for them to make videos. There were not many other possible positions for a coaches’ platform. We were watching the pre-flyers for a while and then, Franci Petek brought us to the “most wanted spots for watching ski jumping”, as he said: to the judges’ tower. The place, where the judges and the assistant of the race director, Miran Tepeš have their working space.
And the spots we received were absolutely phenomenal: round about 10 meters above the slope and complete view between 80 meters and the last row in the spectators’ crowd. We made fun of guessing the flight distance by only watching the manual distance measurement. Also here, you did not really take notice of distances and results. But now you finally understood the motto “eagles share the sky” and also the photos on the accreditations, in which Robert Kranjec and an eagle look into each other’s eyes. In this case we, the spectators, were the eagles and we were on the same level as the jumpers. I was not able to imagine to be in this situation once in my life. It was comfortable warm up here, so we put off our jackets. Of the Slovenian boys told us he was here as Jurij Tepeš made his first flight some minutes ago. He did that with a helmet camera and jumped 237.5, which is a new unofficial-official world record for jumps with helmet camera. “Incredible”, I just said. We have watched some 225m-flights from here so far and those were equally spectacular. As a non-active you cannot feel the fascination of ski flying more than here in this tower. There is no place where a human passes you with 120 km/h with skis on the feet. And another nice fact is that the theory of a lot of people – that Planica and Vikersund will have equal flight curves – is totally wrong. Even when an average flyer came, he managed to reach a ski flying-like distance, even with a short inrun. The difference between the best and the worst is not as big as in Vikersund. This also means that jumpers, who only try to jump forward and make a lot of speed, are able to succeed here. You only need to take a look at the best 10 in the result lists of the individual competitions to notice that this kind of jumpers achieve better results than on other hills.
The whole weekend itself was fantastic, but the experience to see a complete new ski flying hill from the top to the bottom and to have seen one round of ski flying in the tower of Planica, is more than just a privilege. It was pure luck and for sure a one-time-experience. From today’s perspective I just can say: there will not be anything better. It has been difficult for me to pack all this stuff in words or even in a readable form. I really hope this one worked out. And if not, I still have the chance to change and to renew it. This episode of my column is the one that means the most for me, I have put a lot of work for it and I am really asking you for feedback, on every possible way. At this point, I want to thank explicitly Franci Petek in the same way as Mike and Deneene LeBlanc, which took me with them on this tour. Without you guys, I would not have been able to get these memories, photos and I also could not have write this article. Thanks a lot to all of you guys!
Ski Jumps:Planica (Letalnica)
Planica (Nordic Center)