Three hundred feet above a flag-flying crowd, 20-year-old ski jumper Ben Berend leans back on a metal bar awaiting a green light. The announcer chatters, cowbells clank, and the crowd cheers as Berend flies down a ramp and soars through the air—but as he hurtles down Steamboat Springs’ 75-meter Howelsen Hill, something is askew from other ski events. There is no snow; instead, there’s a plastic track. And the young Olympic hopeful isn’t sweating from nerves, but rather from the mid-summer heat.
This weekend, U.S. Ski Team Nordic Combined A-team member and local favorite Berend will take part in the July 4th Jumpin’’ & Jammin’ festival at the oldest, continuously running ski area west of the Mississippi. More than 60 athletes will come from across the nation to leap from Howelsen Hill starting on Friday morning at 9 a.m.
As a fund-raiser for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), one of the nation’s longest standing ski clubs, Olympians past, present and future entertain the post-parade audience with a jumping spectacular. Local vendors will serve up craft brews and home-style cooking against a backdrop of hay bales, burlap, and plaid in line with the Western heritage theme. “Our annual Ski Jumping Extravaganza,”says Todd Wilson, the SSWSC Nordic combined and ski jumping program’s director, “is a chance for SSWSC and Ski Town USA to showcase our jumping and Nordic combined heritage over an American holiday.” Heritage that dates back a century to when “The Flying Norseman,” Carl Howelsen, made the first official jump on the hill. Now, all these years later, ski jumpers like Berend take pride in upholding Howelsen’s legacy.