Celebrating the 90th Annual Salisbury Jumpfest

Interview with John P. (Willie) Hallihan, Board Member of Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) about Jumpfest 2016 at Satre Hill in Salisbury CT.


Q: What is the SWSA?

A: The Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) is a non-profit organization, with a mission to teach children to ski.  SWSA maintains a ski jumping facility with 20, 30 and 70 meter jumps and starts training children as young as 7 years old.  If a child starts training at Satre Hill and continues with the program, SWSA will provide the child the proper equipment for free.  SWSA also supports local 5th through 8th grade downhill ski programs at several ski areas nearby.  SWSA helps around 200 kids annually through direct instruction at Satre Hill and through the downhill programs.  Approximately 30 kids per year participate in a 2 day jump clinic during Christmas break.  Children participating in ski jumping get assistance in traveling to events, including those at Lake Placid.  Jumpfest is the biggest fundraiser of the year and other events include the Brew-Ski Beer Fest event at Satre Hill and SWSA annual Ski Swap in Lakeville.


Q: This is the 90th year of ski jumping in Salisbury Connecticut, can you give us a bit of history of how ski jumping came to Salisbury?

A: One man is responsible for bringing ski jumping to Salisbury and his name is John Satre.  The current ski jumping hill is named after him and he came to Salisbury in the 1920s, probably via Ellis Island.  He came from Norway looking for work and settled in the Salisbury area.  He was an excellent Nordic skier and sometime in the late 20s he showed off his skills by jumping off a local snow covered barn on his skis.  His two brothers and other Nordic skiers soon joined him in the area and soon they formed the Salisbury Outing Club.  In 1927, the club held it’s 1st competition with over 200 spectators.  These skiers were so good at their craft that it was like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had moved to Salisbury to teach the local kids baseball.  Many of these founding members went on to become Olympians and members of the Ski Jumping Hall of Fame.  Future Olympians continue to jump at Satre Hill in the U.S. Eastern Ski Jumping Championships and every 5 years (including 2016) the Junior National Championships.


Q: If there is no snow on the ground will the events still be held?

A: For the last 20 years or so SWSA has had snowmaking capabilities. In the old days the whole town chipped in and helped to scrounge up whatever snow was hidden on north facing hills and from piles that had been piled up by the road crews.  Volunteers work hard on grooming the snow on the landing area and on the jump itself.  Never fear, barring truly unseasonably warm weather in February Jumpfest and the Junior Nationals will be held.


Q: What is special about seeing ski jumping live?

A: I try to talk about SWSA wherever I go.  When I talk to people about ski jumping they say that they have seen it on broadcasts of the Olympics and the old Wide World of Sports introduction.  I try to tell them that watching these events live is very different from watching it on television.  These young people travel up to 50 mph and can soar as much as 200 feet to the landing on the 70 meter hill.  When you are at the event, you hear the slap of the skis onto the snow and the ringing of cowbells in appreciation of a nice jump.  The cowbells are used since applause is muffled by the heavy mittens and gloves.  The atmosphere of the Jumpfest is just downright festive!  There are usually several bonfires going at all times, with great food being served at the Cook Shack.  Lagunitas Brewing is a sponsor of USA Nordic and provides great beer for Jumpfest.  Dale Jones, host of the morning show on WZGB-FM in Litchfield and a former jumper, announces the jumping and the human dogsled racing.  Dale combines knowledge of the events and a great personality to add flavor to the event.


Q: There are two events this year, Jumpfest (February 12-14), and the Junior Nationals Nordic Combined (February 12-27) which is hosted in Salisbury every 5 years.  Can you describe the two events?

A: Jumpfest is the SWSA main event each year.  There are three days of jumping and other events and activities throughout the week.  Friday night is Target Jumping under the lights and the human dogsled race.  Saturday has a ice sculpting contest with some of the best carvers in the country and the annual Snow Ball.  The main event on Saturday is the Salisbury Invitational Ski Jumping contest.  Junior jumpers compete on the 20 and 30 meter jumps and the 70 meter competition begins at 1 pm.  Sunday is the U.S. Eastern Ski Jumping Championships with Olympic hopefuls from the eastern region competing on the big hill.

The Junior Nationals rotates between the 5 regions every year and this year will be the second time it has been hosted at Satre Hill.  This is a national event and the best U20 jumpers from around the country will compete.  There are two components in Nordic Combined and the competitors will jump in the mornings at Satre Hill and travel up to Mohawk Mountain Ski Area to compete in the cross country portion of the event.  At the Sochi Olympics 2 years ago, three of the four Nordic Combined athletes were from the Eastern region and had competed here in Salisbury.  These are very fit athletes that compete in two distinct and demanding disciplines that make up the Nordic Combined event.  There will be an opening ceremony on February 23rd with an athlete’s parade ending with the lighting of a torch similar to the Olympic flame and a closing ceremony on Saturday February 27th.


Q: Where can we buy tickets for Jumpfest?

A: Tickets are available on the day of the event.  Tickets can be purchased in advance at http://www.jumpfest.org/ and there is a discount for muti-day passes.  $35 will get you into all three days of jumping and the Snow Ball.  

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