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Every Question You Have About Ski Jumping, Answered

The idiot's guide to the Winter Olympics' most photogenic sport.

Is this ski jumping?

Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette / MCT
Mike Blake/Reuters
Mark Leffingwell/Usa Today Sports


Yes, these people are jumping in the air on skis, but these are freestyle skiing events like halfpipe, slopestyle, moguls, and aerials. Basically: If there are tricks, it's freestyle.

So, this?

Unfortunately, no. This is ski ballet, which was a real Olympic sport (in the '80s and early '90s, obviously). Not anymore.


Ntb Scanpix/Reuters
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

Ding ding ding. You win a trip to Jamaica and $10,000.


How high are the jumps?

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters
Michael Dalder/Reuters

There are two Olympic-size ski jumps, the "normal" hill and the "large" hill. But they could both be called "huge massive hill," more or less. Women will only jump on the normal hill, while men will jump on both the normal and large hills.

The size of a jump isn't about how high the top of the jump is, but rather the distance a skilled jumper will fly after taking off — kind of like a "par" in golf. On a normal hill, known as a K90, the par is 90 meters; on a large K120, it's 120 meters.

So, this is the first year women get to ski jump in the Olympics?

Norsk Telegrambyra As / Reuters

Correct. Why did it take so long? Mmm, well, previously the International Olympic Committee basically said the sport wasn't big enough internationally, which makes sense if you won't add it to the Olympics. Also, in 2005, the former president of the International Ski Federation said it was believed to not be "appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." LOL.

Recently, the Russian men's ski jumping coach said he wasn't a fan of women's ski jumping because, "Women have another purpose — to have children, to do housework, to create hearth and home."

Moving on!

But first, this in-depth piece from the New York Times Magazine on the U.S. women's ski jumping team is a great read. It focuses on Sarah Hendrickson, the 19-year-old star who suffered a major crash and injury in August, but managed to make the Olympic team; and the pioneering 29-year-old Lindsay Van, the first women's world champion.

Here's Hendrickson's Instagram from the top of the Sochi jump:

How do you win?

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

You get a certain number of points for how far you fly (i.e., where you land), and you're also rated by judges on form and style.

Sounds good. Can I try it?

Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters
AP Photo/Gero Breloer

I asked! Short answer: not right away.

Evan Bliss, head ski jumping coach for the New York Ski Educational Foundation, a Lake Placid-based development team that sends jumpers to the U.S. Ski Team, said it takes about five to six years of training to learn to safely jump a K90, and a few more years to get to a K120. There are smaller jumps, like K20s, for learning purposes.


Getty Images/Hulton Archive
AP Photo/Mike Groll

Did you know there used to be nine ski jumping hills in the New York metro area?! Ski jumps used to be all over the place — but most have closed down.

Lake Placid (at right) and Park City still have their Olympic jumps in use, and a handful of towns across the U.S. still have jumps as well (not all of them are Olympic-size).

According to Bliss, a number of towns are trying to reopen their jumps. "A lot of people are trying to raise money to try and get their jumps up and running," he said. "People miss it. "

What happened?

Getty Images/Hulton Archive
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

Ski jumping was actually a college sport, until the NCAA discontinued it in 1980 — and things started to fall apart from there. "The jumps shut down, no one really was talking care of them," Bliss said.

OK, how about if I just want to see some more cool and/or terrifying photos?

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters


AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images
Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters
Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images
Michael Dalder / Reuters
Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters
Pascal Rondeau / Getty Images
Getty Images
Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

The men's normal hill finals are on NBC tonight. The women's competition is on Tuesday, and the men's large hill event starts Friday.