Ski jumping is a Nordic sport, meaning, like cross-country and telemark skiing, one that evolved on the snow fields and gentle hills of Norway. It is a traditional discipline, highly controlled, obsessed with the most minute details like thumb angle and millimeters between skin and suit. It is not something for expressive hot-doggers. In the United States, where most homegrown ski sports — snowboarding, for example — have both the Alps and a surfboard somewhere in their genes, the Nordic disciplines are not much considered spectator sports. They are also almost irretrievably associated with a quaint, gingerbreadish tweeness. So while it wouldn't be wrong to call ski jumping an extreme sport — because it is crazy to go down a 400-foot-high iced track at 60 miles an hour and then jump the length of a New York City block with nothing but a helmet as a safety net — it's still not something you'll most likely see in the X Games.
And yet, the place that bred the top-ranked women's ski-jumping team is far from Norway. There were an unusual constellation of factors that made the conditions in Park City, Utah, nearly perfect for the development of women's jumping: the jumps built for the 2002 Olympics are not only the best in the country but among the best in the world, and the Olympic Games themselves energized all the winter sports programs in Park City before and after their arrival. The ski culture is also open-minded, which allowed Lindsey Van to start jumping — the lone girl alongside the boys — in the 1990s. There is a 1993 video of her, 8 years old, at the training jumps in the area that would later become the Utah Olympic Park. She is wearing a helmet and a black-and-white cow-patterned suit, and her teeth look big in that way that 8-year-old teeth do. "My goal," she says, coming off a jump, "is to make the Olympic team in 2002 — for girls."
[Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller]