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Pomona jumping

WarrenMiller-color

The many twists and turns of the Pasadena freeway were now behind me as I drove up to the front door or the five-star Huntington Hotel in my high mileage, 1950, fire-engine red Chevy panel delivery truck. I already had more than an hour of driving in Southern California traffic behind me, and my eyes were burning badly from the dense layer of September smog.

I was picking up six Olympic ski jumpers from the hotel.

Our destination was the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona where Sepp Benedicter had built a Nordic ski jump scaffold that was more than 150 feet high. His grand plan was to cover the in run and landing hill with ice and demonstrate skiers flying through the air for 150 feet or more. I was hired to pick up the jumpers every day after lunch from around the swimming pool, haul them to Pomona in my overloaded truck to the site of the jump, be the announcer during the event, and then haul them back to the Huntington Hotel.

For all of this, I was being paid twice as much as I could earn as a carpenter at $16 a day.

When we got to Pomona, I took one look at this more than 150-foot high scaffold and I was glad I was not an Olympic ski jumper.

In 1951, no one on a team could get 15 cents in payment for their Olympic ability. Yet, all of these jumpers including Art Devlin had been flown from their home towns in the Midwest and further east, received room and board and swim trunks for their morning around the pool during their stay at the Huntington Hotel, and all other first-class expenses.

The jump scaffold loomed over the fairgrounds like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. From the rickety top of the in run, which is where I would do my announcing, you could hear the blue ribbon pigs, donkeys and roosters in the nearby 4H Club exhibits.

About 2 o’clock, several large ice block-filled trucks appeared at the outrun of the landing hill and the process began of grinding the ice and spraying it on the landing hill and the run. The first ton or so melted on impact with the hot, wooden landing hill and gradually the landing hill looked almost like a normal landing hill in Minnesota, except for the cotton candy and beer Steuben alongside the bottom of the hill where the jumpers could sign autographs if they survived their flight and landing. The fee for the autographs was tax deductable as a donation to the Olympic team.

Sepp Benedicter had a strong reputation for his ability to promote skiing and it really showed when he pulled this entire thing together.

That first afternoon there also was a half a dozen or so volunteers dressed in their best ski outfits waiting to put on their skis and side step the ice into a less lumpy and more user-friendly to ski jumpers surface.

The in-run was steep enough and long enough so that the jumpers could probably be going almost 35 or 40 mph when they started jumping, or flying. If there was a mistake by a jumper on the in-run, or they landed wrong, they could fly off the side of the landing hill and land on lukewarm melted ice in large puddles about an inch or two deep on top of hot asphalt. It would not be a pretty sight.

My announcements ranged from the origin of Nordic ski jumping to a resume of each individual jumper, specially Sepp Benedicter, who at one time ran a summer ski resort with a rope tow and on pine needles less than 2 miles from Hollywood and Vine.

Standing 150 or more feet high in the smog above the hot asphalt on a wobbly scaffold, I hung on tight as the scaffold sometimes rocked a lot more than I felt safe with.

By the end of each set of jumps, I tried to get my announcing station moved to the bottom of the hill but Sepp said “No way.”

Between the afternoon jumps and the evening show, more and more ski-clothes dressed men and women showed up to side step the in-run and the landing hill. The smart sidestepper packers made sure they were at the top of the landing hill when the jumps were finished so they could ski down making regular turns on their skis.

Emile Allais and his famous French ski technique was still being taught in California and a couple of his disciples demonstrated his revolutionary technique on the landing hill and it suddenly became my announcing job to explain the difference between what was making their ski turns work and what was making the Arlberg turns when someone would do a snowplow turn down the same short hill.

On the way back to the Huntington Hotel, with the Olympic jumpers half asleep in the back of my truck, they all pronounced the off-season event a success. They had gotten free, first-class airplane tickets to Los Angeles along with free room and board for two weeks and spending money for any unanticipated emergencies.

When I started showing the feature films, the ski officials of the amateur status commission of the Olympics told me I couldn’t show the footage of the jumpers because I would ruin their amateur status.

The Olympic jumping tournament at the Los Angeles County fair was never held the second time. Maybe it is because Olympic freestyle athletes are doing quadruple back flips with triple twists off of the same jump hill.

Warren Miller is history’s most prolific and enduring ski filmmaker. Visit warrenmiller.net or visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/warrenmiller. 

 

 

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