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Youth athletes speed down 90-meter ski ramps at Empire Games

Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex
Jamey Bulloch
View of the Olympic Jumping Complex here at the Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022.

The Empire State Winter Games wrapped up Sunday in Lake Placid. The Olympic-style competitions feature multiple sports, such as hockey, skiing, and figure skating. But some are risky and quite frightening.

It’s a rollercoaster and a sport morphed together. There’s a whole lot more to ski jumping. It starts with getting loose, then either taking the gondola or the stairs up to the top of the jump ramp. Putting on the skis and then lift off.

These are not seasoned veterans of the sport who are flying through the air.

And the jumps are daunting, with Empire State Winter Games competitors jumping off as high as 90-meter ramps.

Leila Fey, who has jumped off as high as the 48-meter ramp at 9 years old, says her big brother got her into the sport.

“My brother started jumping, and it was a total accident. He didn’t even know he was doing it before he was there. Then I started coming, and I just wanted to jump.” 

Eli Larkin, a 12 year old from Plattsburgh, says he had to get used to the slopes before hitting the ramps.

“I was originally in alpine, and then I got to jump here for a day because it was a part of the program. And I just like doing it, so I signed up for this.”

It’s a sport that involves a lot of trial and error. You fall here and there. But after a little while, Fey has grown a killer confidence.

“I can do it no matter what.”

Ski jumping is not a sport made for everybody. It takes a certain mindset - just ask Collin Delaney, the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined head coach for the New York Ski Educational Foundation.

“It definitely takes a certain kind of athlete, a certain kind of kid to get drawn to it.”

Delaney says it’s up to the athlete if they really want to commit to glide in the air.

“When you’re on top of the jump, you’re sitting on a bar, and you’re the one that has to push off the bar and take that initiative.”

But when that “initiative” is taken, Dan Weinstein, a former short track speed skating Olympian and father of three Nordic combiners, says so many lessons are learned outside of the competition.

“It’s just such a confidence booster in life. Seeing them not only overcome technical challenges, which any sport has, but there’s a fear and anxiety component going to the top of one of these jumps. It’s just a huge life skill to learn how to overcome fears.” 

The time will come when these kids grow up and go off of higher ramps. But dreams are already being established, and Fey says she hopes to one day, make it.

“Even if I don’t win any medals in the Olympics, it would just be good to say, ‘I was good enough to go there.’”

But here, the goal is to strike Empire State Games gold.