Dispelling ski jumping myths

Erik Seo

Sarah Hendrickson won the large hill (K120) U.S. National Championships in Park City on Aug. 4. It was her second title.

For a summer blog, I could have easily written about training routines, travel schedules and the basics of ski jumping. Sure, that stuff is informative -- even a little repetitive. But this time, I decided to add a little twist. I'm going to share some of the (sometimes bewildering) misconceptions of ski jumping.

Ski jumping isn't exactly popular in the United States. Many people get the basics of our sport wrong -- very wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I could probably write a 10-page essay about it. Hopefully, the following will clear up some of the confusions.

Myth: Ski jumpers train in the summer by jumping into a swimming pool.

Fact: Not one second of a training session or practice involves a pool and/or body of water. In the summer, we happily land on fake grass, and in the winter, it's snow.

This is undoubtedly the No. 1 most-asked question by tourists, fans and members of the media. This has even been brought up while sitting at the top of the ski jump hill (no water in sight) and a tourist asks, "So how do you land in a pool from here?" or "Wait, did you just land in the pool?"

Dan Campbell/Women's Ski Jumping USA

Sarah Hendrickson jumps on the 120-meter hill at U.S. National Championships in Park City. She won the event.

The good thing about these exchanges is that people are genuinely interested in learning more about what we do, and they are typically nice folks. My mom always taught me to be friendly and treat others with respect. However, there is a part of me that sometimes would like to shout rather loudly, "No pool here! You just watched me land on that fake green grass WITHOUT a pool!"

Of course, I would never say that, and I do appreciate the curiosity -- but really, a pool? Don't get me wrong, pools are great, and I wish we could indulge in cooling off in a body of water after summer jumping in 90-degree days wearing spongy jumpsuits. But it is simply not a part of ski jumping.

So, why the pool confusion? Our friends and fellow Olympic hopefuls who are aerialists ski off a sharp ramp and do flips into a pool during the summer training months. Their training facility happens to be a couple hundred yards from us, so there you have it.

Myth: The take-off of a ski jump has a curved-up "lip."

Fact: Not true. The take-off simply hangs at a negative 10-degree angle. Therefore, the option of doing back-flips off a ski jump is nearly impossible by the laws of physics. In order to jump the distances we reach on the ski jump (90-plus meters), you have to use the speed and, well, jump off the take-off -- otherwise, you will go short. Really short.

Myth: Ski jumpers fly up to 30 feet above the ground.

Fact: We're actually much lower to the ground. The average height above the ground during a jump rages from 10-15 feet and follows the contour of the hill, thus the impact of up-landing on a slanted surface is not as intense as one might think. The part of our sport that makes it "extreme" is the high speeds and long distances, not so much the height. We ski down the in-run at 60 mph and jump over a football field in length.

Over the 12 years I have ski jumped, these questions are asked daily by the general public. While sometimes frustrating, I do love informing people who are interested about the sport. If I can have a small part in getting just one more person to love watching what we do, then that's pretty awesome.

Hopefully, this info has cleared up some of the myths about Nordic ski jumping.

Sarah Hendrickson, 19, is a member of the Visa Women's Ski Jumping Team and represents the United States on the World Cup circuit. She was the first World Cup series women's ski jumping champion in 2012 and won the world championships in 2013. She finished the 2013 World Cup season ranked second in the world.