EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Silver Mine Ski Hill made its debut on March 9, 1969. Eau Claire Olympian Billy Olson set the track that weekend in '69 and would be followed through the next five decades by several more future Olympians in the Chippewa Valley. Those who know the hill best shared their memories and look to the future as Silver Mine Turns Gold.
"The ski jumping sport has changed immensely in the 50 years.."
For 62 years, Ron Buckli has been covering sports in the Chippewa Valley. The long-time journalist for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram has been to all 50 Silver Mine Invitational's at Silver Mine Hill.
Buckli says, "I have a passion for ski jumping, when I was growing up in the late 30's, my older brothers and sisters jumped with the Flying Eagles over at the small jump so it's become a passion of mine and I've really enjoyed it through the years."
Buckli says the interest in ski jumping has soared in recent years, the successes of brothers Nick and Nate Mattoon along with Adam and Ben Loomis of Eau Claire have been huge, culminating with Ben's trip to last year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Buckli says, "We've had a number of Olympic jumpers but it got it's start over at Mount Washington on the small hills, and the kids grow into this big hill. We've been fortunate with the young kids that have shown the interest and determination to go on to national acclaim."
Like Buckli, Tournament Director Dan Mattoon has spent most of his life involved in ski jumping. Mattoon competed back in the 1980's and has watched his son's follow in his ski's and take flight. Matttoon has high hopes for the next 50 years of ski jumping at Silver Mine.
Mattoon says, "My vision would be to someday have an Olympic training center right here in Eau Claire. And with our new 55-meter hill that will be completed (over at Mount Washington) in the next 6-8 months that's pretty much going to tie the entire junior aspect of the sport here in Eau Claire, we will have the very best junior ski jumping facility in the nation."
"It's really become part of my spirit for sure and my happiness to have these kids, these international jumpers from all over the world to come here and ski this hill here and it really puts Eau Claire on the map with the community and who we are and what we do."
The Silver Mine Invitational is Friday and Saturday, January 18-19. Gates open at 5 pm on Friday and 4 pm on Saturday. Be sure to stay warm in the WEAU Hospitality Tent.
This year's competition will be live-streamed on WEAU.com