ON THE SCENE: Mountainfest, World Cup undaunted by weather

From left are Mike Pratt, Ashley Walden and Ted Blazer attending the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid. Walden is the current CEO of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the venue, and Pratt and Blazer are former ORDA CEOs. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s and occasional showers were far from desired or ideal conditions for holding an international ski jumping event or a weekend festival of ice climbing and backcountry skiing. Still, both were successfully held from Feb. 9 to 11.

The 2024 Mountainfest, organized and hosted by the Mountaineer in Keene Valley, provides educational workshops and experiences for people of all ability levels. Over 100 backcountry enthusiasts came this year to share skills, learn from others, and engage in various experiences. To deal with the weather, backcountry skiers had to start at higher levels to reach good snow, and Friday and Sunday provided the best ice.

“It’s a three-day event with over a hundred participants taking ice-climbing and backcountry skiing clinics along with food, music and other activities,” said Matt Wiech of the Mountaineer. “The weather is a little warm for February, but a good group of local guides are running the clinics. They are tuned into how the weather and the sun affect climbing and skiing and know what places make sense under these circumstances. Living in the High Peaks region, we are fortunate to have truly world-class and accessible ice climbing and backcountry skiing assets.”

Two who came from the Albany area are Joey Sendzik, who is relatively new to backcountry winter sports and is thus taking 101 courses, and Mark Stewart, who has been into year-round outdoor activities ever since he was in the Boy Scouts.

“I love being outdoors and interacting with nature and other people with similar interests,” said Stewart. “The commonality between us all attracted me to the Mountainfest, as did being outside, working hard and improving my skills.”

Mark Stewart and Joey Sendzik attend the Mountainfest in Keene Valley. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

In Lake Placid, the New York state investments at the Olympic Jumping Complex paid off. The advanced snowmaking, updated grooming equipment, homologated in-out runs, frost rails and renovated judges stand enabled the Olympic Regional Development Authority and the village to host two back-to-back World Cup ski jumping competitions that attracted the best international male ski jumpers. Further, the event attracted many cheerful, boisterous, bell-ringing flag-waving fans for the second year in a row.

Former ORDA CEOs Ted Blazer and Mike Pratt and current CEO Ashley Walden attended the opening night events.

“I think we are seeing a great evolution of ORDA,” said Blazer. “I think there is a great flow moving forward. After I left, Mike came in, who was magnificent, and now Ashley, taking it to a whole new level. I think she has a lot of opportunities with the upgraded shape that the venues are in and Lake Placid has now. Under Mike, we established an international name, and I think events like this will start coming to us all the time. This event has such energy. I loved seeing people walking out here from town. It’s like being in Europe; it’s fantastic.”

Blazer and Pratt remember that the first international non-Olympic Nordic World Championships held outside Europe, the 1950 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, took place at the Intervales ski jumping venue (now called the Olympic Jumping Complex).

“The Miracle on Ice gets all the notoriety, but the tradition of bobsledding, figure skating, hockey, speedskating and ski jumping makes Lake Placid the winter sports capital of the world,” said Pratt.

While many fans attended to cheer for the Polish, German, Norwegian and U.S. athletes, the crowds cheered lustily for all the athletes. Some, like former Lake Placid ski jumper Chuck Berghorn, known by many for training Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, came to cheer the venue upgrades. Talking about the 1950 FIS meet, Chuck noted that cars were parked along the side of the road out to the Adirondack Loj Road and into town to Lamb Lumber.

Marek Bochenko, Malgorzaka and Wojtek Wendolowicz from the Albany area returned for their second year because they love watching ski jumping and the wildly cheering Polish jumping fans. Malgorzaka said that her husband and Marek are such enthusiastic fans that she had to come, admitting she, too, loved watching jumping.

“I watch this sport all the time, and they needed a driver,” said Malgorzaka. “It’s an awesome event.”

The jumpers were thrilled by the turnout and energy, none more so than members of the Polish team, such as Dawid Kubacki and Pawel Wasek, who participated in a round robin with athletes from all the teams signing fans’ proffered posters.

“It’s a great feeling to have so many fans come out and cheer for us,” said Kubacki. “It’s just like last year when we came for the first World Cup held in Lake Placid in 33 years. It was very nice to have so many Polish fans here last year and again this year. They made us feel like we were competing at home; many fans came from around my region. Their support means a lot. They create a great atmosphere; the best is that they cheer everybody even though they are the loudest for us. When the fans support everybody, that’s when it’s the best.”

Jumping coach Larry Stone felt that our hosting two back-to-back World Cups provided many significant benefits and demonstrated that Lake Placid is becoming a more integral part of the international jumping community. He said the fans have been great, and the competitions are inspiring for our young jumpers who get to meet and see their heroes in action.

“Our kids are seeing how they make the big jumps, from going down the inrun, getting into flight, carrying it down the hill, and sticking a landing,” said Stone. “When I can, I sneak a few in so they can stand with me and watch the takeoffs. The events are wonderful. I am sure they give the community a boost financially and our kids a boost to see how it’s done at the top.”

Former national team member Nick Fairall, who lived and trained in Lake Placid for many years, said, “The fact that we’ve held two World Cups in a row is phenomenal. I always dreamed they’d be held here again. I know that many people from ORDA, the state, town and village and sports authorities worked very hard to bring it to Placid, and now that the fans and athletes love being here, I hope we can host World Cups annually.”

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

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