skywalkers

words: eric ducker
photography: justin hogan

In the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, there are two massive ski jumps. They were built when Lake Placid hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, the same games where the US hockey team performed its "miracle on the ice." That year, the ski-jumping medals went to Austrian, Finnish, East German, and Japanese athletes. The ramps now serve as a year-round tourist attraction, but they're also used for summer training by a group of brave jumpers. Some are simply looking for something different to do in the off-season, while others harbor their own gold medal dreams.

 

skijump_2

 

The ski jump towers were originally built to reach 70 and 90 meters into the sky. To keep up with changing Olympic rules, in the 1990s the structures were raised to their current heights of 90 and 120 meters. The only other jumps of that size in the United States are in Park City, Utah.

 

skijump_3

 

Tara Geraghty-Moats is from Vermont, but she trains in Lake Placid. She is 22 years old and part of the United States Women's Ski Jumping Team. Ski jumping didn't become an Olympic medal sport for women until the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.

Miles Lussi is one of the few Lake Placid natives who competes internationally. Another is his older sister, Nina. Now 18, Lussi was skiing by the time he was two; he started ski jumping at the age of five. He is currently a freshman at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and is trying to decide whether he will take time off from school to continue his training.

Ski jumping is a sport for the young. The oldest among the Lake Placid jumpers is in his mid-30s, but most give up the game by the end of their 20s. It's not so much the impact that the landings have on the body, it's the time it takes to recover after a bad fall.

Competitive ski jumpers practice all summer, often taking five or six jumps a day on the plastic track. "It's almost better, because it's far more consistent," says Lussi. "You have the same track, the same landing, every single jump. In the winter there are so many different textures with snow—that kind of messes with your jumps every time. And you're not freezing your ass off."

"You get over the fear," says Lussi. "I was used to it until went up for my first jump off the 90 meter. You have to walk up the tower, it's more than 30 stories high, and you look down the whole time. Every step you're like, 'Oh no, what am I doing?' Once you get to the top, you can see all the mountains around you. It's pretty unreal."