Ski jumpers have been flying off the hill at Hyland Lake Park Reserve for 100 years. But soon they’ll be doing something nobody has done in that entire century: ski jumping in July.
The Minneapolis Ski Club and Three Rivers Park District will spend about $750,000 over the next 18 months for improvements to the Bloomington ski jumping facility. Included is plastic matting and a watering system that will make the park into a year-round ski jump training center, one of only about 20 in the country.
“As reliable snow continues to elude us here, having facilities where jumping can be reinforced year-round — that really is the linchpin to kicking up ski jumping another level,” said Tom McDowell, a Three Rivers spokesman. “This will put us on the map nationally.”
It’s the younger jumpers who are really the focus of the project, said Jack Broz of the ski club. The sport has had trouble retaining young jumpers, in part because of its short season. Kids give it a try, but it’s difficult to give them the opportunity for consistent practice.
“If you came out and tried it now, for example, you’ve got maybe a month left in the season,” Broz said. “And it’s a long time before next December. So it’s hard to keep people engaged.”
Still, more than 200 skiers a year use the facility. It regularly hosts regional, national and international events. More than a dozen Olympians have jumped there over the years.
In keeping with the emphasis on youth development, the initial improvements will be made only to the facility’s 8-, 18- and 28-meter jumps. The 70-meter jump, a familiar sight on the Bloomington skyline, may be upgraded to year-round use in a later phase.
The money is coming from three sources: $325,000 from a Hennepin County Youth Sports grant, $250,000 from Three Rivers — earmarked for construction of a new paved parking lot — and $175,000 of in-kind contributions from the ski club.
The youth sports grant comes with a string attached: the ski club must boost its programming aimed at female jumpers. It’s a condition the club is happy to accept, Broz said. Women’s ski jumping made its first appearance as an Olympic sport at the Sochi games in 2014.
The facility won’t actually operate 12 months of the year. A transition time is needed at the beginning and end of winter to switch over from matting to natural snow, or vice versa. The true annual operating time will be closer to nine months.
But does it make sense to spend so much on a declining sport? McDowell said it’s a chicken-or-the-egg question and pointed to the Park District’s recent experience with cross-country skiing.
“Ten or 12 years ago, the Three Rivers Park District was debating whether we should invest in snow-making equipment to support cross-country skiing,” he said. “The national statistics were showing that it was declining across the nation. But we met with the high school league, with the retailers, and they were saying that if we had reliable facilities and a place to ski, it would be thriving again.
“So we invested at Elm Creek and Hyland, and now the Upper Midwest is the hotbed of cross-country skiing nationally.”
Broz said the ski club is looking for partnerships on its share of the project. The club hopes to find contractors who might be willing “to shave their margin a little” to do concrete work, decking and grading on the project.