Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex to Take the World Stage – Once Again
The Origins, Evolution, and Investment in the Sport of Ski Jumping in Lake Placid
Lake Placid’s ski jumps are iconic. Athletes, locals, and visitors alike all marvel at the towers. No one is immune to being awe-struck by the courage of the athletes who fly off the end of those jumps. The tallest structures between Albany and Montreal, they are a powerfully distinctive feature of our local landscape.
Their history is equally striking. Just consider, for example, the relatively crude equipment used more than 100 years ago when ski jumping first began in Lake Placid. Thin wooden skis. Leather bindings. Basic leather boots. Wool clothing. And no helmet. To ponder the advances in the technology and the height of the jumps over the years is also fascinating.
The first recorded jump on skis – anywhere – was made in 1808 by Ole Rye of Norway when he launched himself about 30 feet. It wasn’t an official sport, however, until Sondre Norheim won the first-ever ski jumping competition in 1866 in the Telemark region of Norway. Sondre was the first to use willow, cane, and birch root to bind the boot to the ski, revolutionizing skiing and making ski jumping possible. After the sport began to “take off” in Norway, immigrants brought it to the US in the late 1800s.
The Lake Placid Club, which first opened to guests through the winter months in 1904, built the first ski jump at the current Intervales site in 1920 using the hillside itself as the jump surface. No one could have known at that time that simple 35-meter jump would eventually become all that the Olympic Jumping Complex is today, yet in hindsight the excitement of the first jumping competition could have been seen as a signal. Held in February 1921, that event drew 3,000 spectators, nearly 1,000 more people than the recorded Village population at the time. As the first major sport competition ever staged in Lake Placid, the event was a seed, of sorts, from which grew everything the Olympic Village is today. It’s worth noting on that auspicious occasion, the longest jump that day, made by Anthony Maurer of Switzerland, was recorded at 124 feet.
In the coming years and decades, the jumps at the Intervales complex would be renovated, added to, and made ever larger many times over. In 1923 the singular jump on the site was enlarged to 50 meters. In 1927, a steel tower was added, raising the jump to 60 meters. And again, the following year, the tower was raised to 75 meters. A smaller, 40-meter jump had also been built to facilitate training in advance of the 1932 Olympics.
Ski jumping was made an Olympic sport at the first Winter Games in 1924 at Chamonix, France. At the 1932 Games in Lake Placid on that steel 75-meter tower, 10 of 17 nations competed in ski jumping. Norway swept the podium in the only jumping event at the time, the individual men’s competition.
After the 1932 Olympics, the 1950 World Championships in ski jumping were held in Lake Placid also on the same 75-meter tower. It wasn’t until 1977 that the old tower was dismantled, and new 70- and 90-meter jumps were constructed in advance of the 1980 Winter Olympics. By then, the sport consisted of two events – the Normal Hill and the Large Hill. That year 18 nations participated in ski jumping with Austria’s Toni Innauer taking Gold on the Normal Hill and Finland’s Jouko Törmänen winning on the Large Hill.
After the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York State created the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) to maintain facilities and drive economic development. By all measures, that work is a brilliant and continuing success. ORDA remains devoted this this original purpose by facilitating training opportunities for athletes, providing four-seasons recreation for a diverse population, and hosting a broad spectrum of events while continually striving to improve and further develop all facets of operations. The benefits of this work are far reaching, and today, ORDA is a global leader in sport and recreation with an ever-vigilant focus on results and sustainability.
Through the years, international standards for ski jumps naturally change due to advances in the sport and the equipment jumpers use as well as other factors, not the least of which is athlete safety. To keep the jumps on the two towers in compliance with standards, the landing hills were re-graded in 1994, increasing their official height to 90- and 120-meters.
The 40-meter training hill also saw changes through the years. In the late 1960s, volunteers regraded the hill and reconfigured the takeoff, making it a 48-meter jump. To keep pace with athlete development needs, Town crews built a new tower for that outrun in 1998. Today, that jump, which lies to the right of the large hill’s outrun, is still used for training in winter.
A Freestyle Aerial Training Center was also added for year-round training and competition. The acrobatic discipline known as Aerials has athletes skiing off a much shorter but steeply inclined jump that propels them as much as 20 meters into the air above the landing area. In the air, they perform multiple flips and twists before landing on a steeply inclined hill (winter) or a large swimming pool (summer). In the pool, a burst of air is sent up from the bottom just before the athlete lands in the water, breaking up the surface tension to reduce the impact of the landing for the skier.
In more recent years, discussions began on upgrading the jumps, particularly the 90- and 120-meter hills. Both the International Ski Federation and U.S. Ski Jumping recommended improvements to meet new standards. Aligning the venues to meet advancing standards would ensure the venue could remain useful and continue attracting national and international competitions. It was also necessary to provide a safe and effective environment for training throughout the year. And a big part of that vision included adding elements beneficial to tourists and the general public, too. Funding was approved in 2019, and a series of rejuvenation projects began to upgrade the jumps.
Among this series of projects were many improvements made to the jumps and other infrastructure on the site. One key to it all was the new ceramic frost rails that were added to the “inruns” (the side-by-side ski tracks in which athletes descend the tower before launching into the air). The old inruns were always an issue with temperatures fluctuating. Today, the upgrades provide a consistent, fair, safe surface for athletes to achieve the speed they need for jumping. The new frost rails also make maintenance much easier, helping crews keep the jumps always ready for training throughout the year. Additionally, they permit safe jumping without snow, a big change that not only allows athletes to train at the facility year-round but also for ORDA to host national and international competitions in all seasons.
Another key was re-contouring the landing and adding underground infrastructure to meet new standards for the profile of the hill and the safety of the landing surface. The “outruns” (the flat to slightly uphill portion allowing the jumper to stop) were also regraded. Both the hills and the out-runs were covered in a new high-tech, long-lasting artificial surface that resembles grass. With a little water sprayed over the top, athletes can jump and land safely without snow, anytime of year. And in winter the new profile means the hills require less snow to achieve the optimal profile for athlete performance and safety.
The height of the towers is now officially HS 100-meter and HS 128-meter, a designation signifying the hill size from the takeoff to the farthest landing point, all calculated on the technical geometric specifications of the hill. The hill length is used for the calculation of the jumpers’ distance, a number that is combined with style points awarded by judges for the overall competition points. Measuring jumper’s distances was formerly done by people positioned along the hills who would signal where a skier landed. Now, it’s performed automatically by an advanced video triangulation system that’s more accurate, reliable, and fair in competition.
Additional venue upgrades also include a new, faster, and more efficient snowmaking system as well as the replacement of the slower chairlift system with a comfortable eight-person, ADA-compliant gondola. The new Skyride gondola transport system carries athletes, coaches, officials, equipment, spectators, and tourist visitors from just outside the base lodge to the base of the towers and new decks for up-close viewing of competitive events and training.
Additionally, the gondola carries visitors to the launch deck of a new zipline course. This added attraction parallels the path of a jumper from the HS 100-meter tower, allowing visitors to feel for themselves the flight of a ski jumper launching into the air. The zipline attraction increases the use of the venue and improves the experience for visitors.
Finally, there’s an all new Intervales Base Lodge that provides everyone – coaches, teams of athletes, spectators, and tourists throughout the year – outstanding opportunities to see the training and competitions and experience everything the Olympic Jumping Complex has to offer.
This series of upgrades is once again putting Lake Placid on the international ski jumping map and positions the Olympic Jumping Complex as a sought-after destination for athletes and tourists alike. The jump towers and the glass elevator to the observation deck are still among the more captivating and entertaining activities for visitors to the region.
Completed in 2021, the series of projects that rejuvenated this historic venue are all vital to keeping it, and our region’s Olympic legacy, alive and thriving. The first event at the new jumps was the Olympic Trials, a nationally televised event beaming images of Lake Placid into homes around the country on Christmas Day. This summer saw nearly constant training by athletes and two major fall competitions, that also provided visitors a festival atmosphere and spectating opportunity.
After an early winter season filled with training, the jumps were host to the largest event since the 1980 Winter Olympics – the 2023 FISU World University Games. With Individual, Team, and Mixed Relay Ski Jump competitions, plus Nordic Combined events over the 11-day event, the new jumps gave athletes from around the world a platform to shine while cameras beamed images of Lake Placid to a global audience. And now, right on the tail of the tremendously successful FISU Games, the crew at the Olympic Jumping Complex is preparing for a sold-out crowd for the first FIS Ski Jumping World Cup in Lake Placid in more than three decades.
This venue is vital to Lake Placid’s position as the winter sports capital of the world. The recent improvements are vital to our maintaining that prestigious reputation for decades to come. Today, the flame burns bright, and our position in the world is rising. After more than a century of jumping in Lake Placid, the Olympic Jumping Complex remains a valuable asset that will yield extraordinary results for decades to come.