INTO THE TREES: Touring the Olympic Jumping Complex

The 1980 ski jumps at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid are seen on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

Just outside of the village on state Route 73, the Olympic Jumping Complex is a sight to behold, rich in the region’s ever-present Olympic history.

Turning into the property, I was met with an empty parking lot. I thought, “This can’t be it.” I drove across the lot to a kiosk, which was unmanned, but asked a maintenance worker if I was in the right place. He told me to go down the hill, and I would find the base lodge.

When I arrived at the lodge, I could not believe that such a massive complex of jumps and gondolas could be so hidden. The first time I drove into town on Route 73, I remember coming around a corner and seeing very suddenly the ski jumps rising from the treetops. I nearly crashed as I strained to figure out what these gargantuan concrete towers could be. Now, I’ve stood atop them, taking in one of the most sprawling views in all the Adirondacks.

I was fortunate to get an insider’s tour of the complex. I met Jaime Collins, content and communications manager at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, in the Intervales Base Lodge at the bottom of the jumping hill. We walked through the dining area and out the back door, where we hitched a ride on the new SkyRide gondola. Collins explained the state-of-the-art pulse gondola replaced a chair lift a few years ago.

As we waited for the next ride, she told me how the profile of the jumps was recently changed to meet International Ski and Snowboard Federation standards. Doing so allows jumpers to remain close to the ground while airborne.

Here is the view from an athlete’s perspective on the 120-meter ski jump at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

“That was a huge undertaking in and of itself,” she said.

As we rode up the cables to the base of the jump towers, I stared, amazed, at the pulleys, cables and machinery that hoisted us smoothly up the hill. Of course, I’m no engineer, but I could not begin to imagine the process of constructing such a thing.

Collins took me to a publicly accessible platform near the bottom of the ramps. From here, I began to understand why people have told me time and time again about the view. Laid before us were miles of Adirondack mountains in every direction.

We crossed a chain onto the side stairs of the ramps, where I got a close look at the inruns, or frost rails, where jumpers place their skis. Between slats, a thin layer of refrigerated plastic allows for ice to be formed and smoothed to rocket skiers down the ramps. It reminded me of the Lake Placid Toboggan Chute.

We walked back to the base of the towers to the back of the complex, where we boarded the glass elevator that took us nearly to the top of the 120-meter jump tower. The huge windows of the observation deck gave a view even better than the platform below. From here, I could see Mount Van Hoevenberg to the south and the Olympic Center to the north.

Here is the view of the village of Lake Placid from the top of the 120-meter jump at the Olympic Jumping Complex. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

Outside on a fenced-in observation walkway, we stepped into the athlete’s entrance and climbed metal stairs to the top of the jumps, a privilege not afforded to most visitors. In my luck, I got to stare down the ramp from dead center, as if seeing it through the eyes of the jumper. From here, the previously impossible feat seemed more reasonable, though light years away from my capabilities.

As we stood on a tiny platform and looked out at the mountains, I thought of Lake Placid’s uniqueness. On any given day, the amount of Olympians and professional athletes in town is staggering. I felt that if I chucked a rock off the platform, I would hit one.

“One of the things that makes this place really special, I think, is that you know, you can go to these places and you can go cross-country skiing or downhill skiing or skating or whatever, but you’re doing it side by side with people that are training for the Olympics,” Collins said. “It’s really kind of a special experience.”

Intervales history

Ski jumping became an Olympic sport in 1924 at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. The II Olympic Winter Games at St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1928 had a 70-meter jump.

State Olympic Regional Development Authority Content and Communications Manager Jaime Collins discusses the history of the jumping complex as we ride the SkyRide gondola up the hill on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

The history of ski jumping at the Olympic Jumping Complex goes back to 1920, when Lake Placid Club officials built a 35-meter jump on the edge of town at the Intervales farm, according to the final report of the III Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid in 1932. The 35-meter Intervales ski jump hosted thousands of spectators to watch a competition on Feb. 21, 1921.

The jump was increased to 50 meters in 1923 and 60 meters in 1927.

The 60-meter Intervales jump hosted the ski jumping competition during the 1932 Winter Olympics.

The 60-meter Olympic jump was upgraded to 70 meters in the early 1940s, according to Lake Placid News archives, and it was torn down in 1977 to make way for the new 70- and 90-meter jumps that were built ahead of the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980.

The landing hills were re-graded in 1994, increasing the jumps to 90 and 120 meters.

A state Olympic Regional Development Authority staffer greets visitors arriving at the top of the hill via the SkyRide gondola on Tuesday, Feb. 20. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

For more information about the Olympic Jumping Complex, visit olympicjumpingcomplex.com.

Workers prepare a hillside at the Olympic Jumping Complex Tuesday, Feb. 20 for the coming NorAm Aerials competition. (News photo — Oliver Reil)

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