Ski jumping is a sport for adrenaline junkies, both those at the end of the rope and those watching from the shore. The speed, the precise timing, the time in the air, the potential for mishap - how could it get any crazier?
There’s one way: Do it at night.
Wild? You bet. But in the era of extreme sports, why not?
On Saturday, LA Night Jam IV will take to the water at Bennett’s Water Ski & Wakeboard School’s Tri-Lakes facility in Zachary. The event will offer a variety of visual thrills for the audience, but the main event will be professional ski-jumpers launching themselves more than 200 feet into the evening sky, illuminated by stadium lights and cheered on by thousands of fans.
That attendance is expected based on last year’s Night Jam III, when spectators packed the levee that separates two of the facility’s lakes and provides a sideline view of the action.
In addition to dodging the heat of the day, the schedule adds something special to the event, said Danyelle Bennett, 23, one of the professional skiers in the competition.
“I really enjoy it,” Bennett said. “It adds another kind of scare factor to it, because everything moves so much faster. I like it the most, though, because the spectators enjoy it more.”
“It’s the adrenaline from jumping,” said Damien Sharman, 32, a London native who teaches at Bennett’s and skis professionally. “I think that’s where the appeal comes from. ? We all do it because we love it. We think it’s a great sport.”
Long before the gates open at 5 p.m., professional skiers will compete in preliminary competition that will whittle down the field to eight men and eight women, who will vie for titles starting at 8 p.m. Before that, crowds will have a lot to keep them entertained, including a band, a pro-am slalom competition, a wakeboard “kicker” (small jumping ramp) contest and freestyle jumping, trick skiing and barefoot skiing exhibitions. Tri-Lakes also will allow those in attendance to try out skis and wakeboards on one of its lakes.
Then, as darkness falls, all attention will turn to the jumping area.
Those who have never seen this in person are likely to be amazed.
At a competitive level, skiers don’t merely use the boat’s speed to launch themselves over the ramp. Rather, they whipsaw back and forth across the wake until they draw even with the boat on the side opposite the ramp. Then, they reverse direction, creating a slingshot action that allows them to double the boat’s speed to achieve maximum jumping distance. The timing of that final big move is critical.
“Once you do get over there, you kind of use more feeling than eyesight,” Bennett said. “You see the ramp and kind of have a picture in your head of what it’s supposed to look like, and that lets you know, ?Oh, I’m going to be early’ or ?Oh, I’m too late’ because you’ve seen that picture many times before.”
Only, that picture has mostly been taken in daylight, so Night Jam adds to the drama.
“The main reason we did it was to attract more crowds,” Sharman said.
“We’re trying to grow the sport. ? It’s working. If we put this event on during the day, we’d probably get 20 people if we promoted it. But at night time we’re pulling in 4,000 to 5,000.
“It is scary at night, but the whole event and everything that’s going on around you, it’s actually a lot more enjoyable and you’re willing to take the little extra risk.”