Special Feature: Behind the Scenes at FIS Ski Jumping World Cup
World Cup competition is how greatness is measured. It’s a test of the best. Everything that factors into excellence must be in place, and only then does one successfully reach the pinnacle of performance a World Cup represents.
That test is designed for athletes, of course, yet it is also a test of the event’s organizer. So, this weekend’s International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) Ski Jumping World Cup event was a greatness test as well for the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
“We should definitely come back here,” says Team Norway coach Alex Stöckl. “What the organizers delivered in the past few days is great. I hope we will have Lake Placid permanently in the ski jumping calendar in the future. This is a wonderful place for ski jumping.”
FIS Race Director Sandro Pertile shared similar excitement saying “We are all really impressed with what has been achieved here over the past few days. Lake Placid will also be part of the ski jumping calendar in the future, we will plan for the long term and definitely want Lake Placid to be an integral part of that planning.”
Achieving the Extraordinary
Of course, organizing any World Cup is a challenge, but this was no ordinary World Cup. Success required a team who could achieve the extraordinary. After all, this was the first FIS Ski Jumping World Cup in Lake Placid in 33 years. It was also the first World Cup after the investments were made to rejuvenate the Olympic Jumping Complex. And, as was recognized by FIS officials, the decision to host the event in Lake Placid came late in the game, forcing the Olympic Authority to do it all and do it all fast. “Getting the event four and a half months ago,” says venue manager Rebecca Dayton, “We knew it would be a significant lift to pull off this event at the scale required.” That, remember, is in addition to planning and pulling off the FISU World University Games, the largest event since the 1980 Olympics.
“It’s not easy to prepare a World Cup event in ski jumping in less than six months,” said Pertile. “I think this is a good example when people are working together and join their energy, you can reach an expected result.”
Organizing a World Cup from scratch is a big mountain to move. The Award ceremonies alone, for example, demand planning, sets, lights, presenters, and sound. The field of play has to meet stringent FIS standards that not only serve the needs of athletes and coaches but also keeps the competition fair, keeps it safe, and keeps it flowing smoothly. All while also keeping the athletes, media from around the world, and thousands of spectators all self-sustaining and satisfied in their respective zones.
Accommodating multitudes of spectators beyond normal is another giant assemblage of tasks. Creating great experiences for them necessitates set ups, procedures, and lots of experienced staff in maintenance, food and beverage service, support staff, guest services, ticketing, and logistics management. With the multitudes paying visitors also comes a need to engineer solutions to transportation and parking issues, signage, security, and safety. Not to mention people dedicated to entirely unseen efforts, such as Information Technology (IT), that keep virtually every aspect of the competition and spectator experience flowing smoothly.
“It took a total team effort across the organization,” said Dayton. “Everyone had a piece in making this come together in such a short time. The great thing is, the group here at the jumps, the group at Mt Van Hoevenberg, and our senior staff together have done a lot of events. This was our first World Cup ski jumping event, but we’ve done a lot of other events together. We had a good plan to accomplish the competitive side of it. We also had a lot of support from upper management to do the big things we needed to do. From there, the crew was really focused on prioritizing the work that needed to be done to have the best competition we could.”
“The staff really pulled together,” says Susan Taylor, Olympic Jumping Complex and Mt Van Hoevenberg Guest Services Manager. “We had people coming from all the other venues and every department to help out. Their energy was phenomenal, and so were they. Everyone was so upbeat and positive. It was a real team effort out there. Almost like family working together.”
Taylor is quick to note the IT Department is one of the really good examples of staff rising to the challenge and doing all that needed to be done to ensure a successful event. “The IT Team practically lived at the jumps the entire week,” she says. Their work involved setting up the remote sales points for tickets, food, beverages, and more, creating highly functioning and dependable systems networks, setting up video boards and the jumbotron, and creating all the connections for the media center. IT expertly performed great work far beyond the everyday, and it all entailed things that demanded flawlessness and reliably. “They did an amazing job,” says Taylor. “You don’t even realize they’ve been there sometimes because everything is working. They’re people with huge responsibilities that most others don’t even stop to think are involved.”
Volunteers Are Vital
Even with the numbers of Olympic Authority staff contributing in so many ways, the event could not have been successful without the many volunteers in diverse roles. The Olympic Authority is incredibly fortunate to have teams of highly dependable volunteers who are generous with their skills and time. They were there for this event, yet there were many new volunteers, too. Notes Taylor, “We saw many new people volunteer for the hill crew and just jump in and help make it happen. And they did a really great job.”
According to Dayton, at any given time on the field of play alone, 108 staff and volunteers made the two-full days of competition run without a hitch. Eighteen people were working the inrun (the ramp on which the jumpers gain their speed for takeoff), up to 12 people at the top, and 20-plus steppers on the hill to maintain the quality and safety of the landing area. Yet another 20-plus hill markers were on hand by regulation to ensure the accuracy of the jumps electronic video triangulation system that measures the length of each jump. Plus there are crews in the finish area, a crew in the race office, and a crew in the judges’ tower.
Outside the field of play there were even more, including 40 youths from Cortland who volunteered their weekend and another 44 students from Paul Smith’s College, 16 security staffers and 32 New York State Troopers, and big numbers behind the scenes. Junior jumpers also came from all across the Northeast to take part in and help create a highly engaging opening ceremony for spectators.
“It was a huge number of people across the whole venue,” says Dayton. “And a big effort by a lot of people.”
Beyond the athletes and organizers, the throngs of cheering spectators with sunny dispositions were another clear indicator this event was well-organized. For anyone at the jumps that weekend, it was evident the energy coming from the people in attendance made the atmosphere at this event extra special. Says Taylor, “Even when people were standing in line and waiting, they were smiling and in good spirits. That sent us a clear message we were doing things right.”
Dayton recognized the energy of the spectators made everything a little easier. “The enthusiasm and excitement really helped to make us know this is something people really wanted to see,” she said. “These people were true super fans, and their enthusiasm was infectious.”
The Trust Factor
It’s no secret, of course, that whenever people come together like this and achieve something great, the most powerful factor in the equation is confidence and trust among team members. When others demonstrate dependability, it fuels everyone’s dedication to getting the job done and done well.
For any big sports event the Olympic Authority organizes but especially this event – the first in three decades – to succeed at this level, the organization’s employee culture is key. “The team at the Olympic Authority can do anything we set our minds to,” says Taylor. “We absolutely can. Having a real purpose and strong leaders, people at the top who know we can do it, is an empowering thing for the rest of us.”
While any of the tasks staff were performing were things they do on a daily basis, yet this World Cup was different. Because it hadn’t been done in the modern era and because it was bigger than anything at the venue in decades, it all demanded an elevated level of performance.
Everyone on the team, staff and volunteers alike, played vital roles in making this event exceptional. Often roles, such as the maintenance and cleaning staff go unseen and unrecognized. “They kept the venue spectacularly beautify and kept everything so clean throughout the weekend,” notes Dayton. “Even after the event, you wouldn’t have known we just had 16,000 people on the venue. Even the parking lots were clean. Everybody did their part.”
“People in supervisory roles not only know their jobs but they also know what their staff is capable of and where their strengths are,” says Taylor. “We’re putting people in the right positions and giving them the tools they need, so we where we know they’re going to be successful.”
Dayton emphasizes many people working hard at the venues never even see the action. “They work so hard and never get to see the culmination of everything that’s gone into the event,” she says. “When they’re parking the cars and cleaning things, they can’t see the result and what it all means. I especially want to recognize their efforts.”
In the Ultimate Analysis
It’s been said that working hard for something we don’t care about is stressful but working hard for something we love is called passion. On the surface, a World Cup is the best athletes on the planet competing head-to-head. But this New York State Olympic Authority team understands that as important as that is, a World Cup is even more. A World Cup is human relationships and how everyone on the field of play and beyond interacts and experiences the joys of raw competition at this level. It’s the pride and pluralism of nations and cultures. And it’s the life-affirming unity experienced in such moments that allows each individual present to transcend all else.
Of course, the weekend’s perfect weather didn’t hurt either.