A Look Inside: Silver Mine Invitational

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 9:08 AM CST
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Town of Union, Wis. (WEAU) - The Silver Mine Invitational was held January 14 and 15 this year.

Visit Eau Claire estimates the ski jumping event brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic impact.

“People put a lot of hard work into it. A lot more than you would expect,” said Tami Jastrow, the event’s registration coordinator.

The Invitational is hosted by the Flying Eagles Ski Club.

“We’ve been Ski jumping in the Chippewa Valley now for 136 years and Silver Mine has been jumping since 1969,” explained Dan Mattoon, the event coordinator.

The competition is returning to normal in its 53rd year, after the pandemic changed things up in 2021.

“We did do the Mt. Washington event, but we missed Silver Mine due to COVID, so we’re really excited to bring this event back to Eau Claire,” Mattoon added.

While the event takes place over the course of two days, the work that goes into it takes a lot longer.

“[It takes] thousands of man hours every year in volunteer work,” said Zach Jastrow, the chief of hill. “We don’t have any paid employees.”

The ski club has 15 to 20 consistent volunteers.

“We do things all throughout the year-- whether it be repairs or making improvements. It’s nice to do that in the warm summer months,” Zach explained.

Another 150 people lend a hand and volunteer for the tournament.

“Volunteers do different positions between selling tickets, helping at the gates, parking, selling concessions,” Tami added.

Invitations are sent out the weekend before the competition.

For Tami Jastrow, her job continues even after signing up the almost 40 athletes each year.

“I take care of a lot of the signage that goes into the place,” Tami said. “I take care of a lot of the phone calls for getting equipment out here. I help the people in concessions figure out who they have to feed around the grounds.”

As far as preparing the ski jump, that’s weather dependent.

“As soon as we get freezing temperatures overnight, we’re starting to make snow,” said Zach. “Once we have enough snow, we start grooming the hill. Then we work through any other temporary preparations like the snow boards. We are measuring all the angles and making sure the hill is safe and that [the athletes] are going to fly through the air the right way.”

Zach Jastrow says his volunteers have a wide range of expertise-- including those who worked on the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic hill crew.

“[We also have} anyone that can handle a shovel, a rake, or a tree pruner-- volunteer,” Zach mentioned. “It takes all kinds and it takes all sorts of hours.”

Event coordinator Dan Mattoon says the Silver Mine Invitational doesn’t just help put Eau Claire on the map, but also its ski club athletes.

“There’s only two hills of this size in the whole central part of the United States--right here and one in Michigan so it’s a very special thing,” Mattoon said. “Ski jumping in the Chippewa Valley has been a huge tradition for many, many years. It’s the biggest sport in the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls area that’s brought peoples to the Olympic Games. We have had, I believe, seven different Olympians since 1932...most recently Ben Loomis. He was there in 2018 and he’s qualified again in 2022. He’s a Nordic combined athlete, a Flying Eagle from here in Eau Claire.”

It’s not just those from the Chippewa Valley competing either. Juniors from the East Coast, to Colorado, Alaska and Utah make the journey.

“Kids that are competing here have the chance to go to the Junior World Championships, so they’re all coming here to be able to vie for those positions for our US jumpers and also Nordic combined.”

In a non-COVID year, competitors even cross the ocean for the invitational.

“Typically we have people from either Norway, Finland, Slovenia-- lots of different countries,” Mattoon mentioned.

All the preparation and hard work, creating a state of the art competition and a family tradition for many.

Mattoon estimates the weekend to have brought in between 6,000-10,000 spectators. Those viewing also had plenty to enjoy including bonfires, shopping and cross country skiing.

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