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The Small Towns Where Ski Jumping is a Centuries-Old Tradition

If you’ve driven through the American Midwest, chances are you’ve passed a ski jump, its telltale scaffolding rising high above the flat landscape. Each winter the storied jumps draw skiers from across the globe to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois to participate in the prestigious Five Hills Tournament. Thousands of spectators gather as competitors –– many from local jumping clubs over a century old –– fly into the steely winter sky.

A former jumper himself, photographer Cooper Dodds followed the tournament for five years. Dodds’s large-format color photographs, gathered in his first monograph, Jumper: Flying in the Heartland (Daylight, 2019), capture the festive and admirably strange culture of ski jumping. Award-winning novelist Peter Geye, who was raised in Minneapolis and learned to ski jump when he was seven years old, writes that Dodds’s photographs “capture the essence of our sport: We are a community of souls endeavoring together to capture what can only be truly experienced alone –– the ecstasy of flight.”

In Dodds’s photographs, young men and women wear slick ski suits that are simultaneously futuristic and retro The athletes are welcomed to the region on the same signs that read “sausage and meats,” and the landscapes that surround them are covered in pastures and low lying cityscapes. It’s not hard to imagine the youthful skiers winding down with a Blatz Beer, their joyful chatter bouncing off wood paneled rooms warmed by a fireplace or blazing baseboard heaters. 

Looking at these unpretentious pictures, it’s tempting to forget they are centered around a competition that plays a critical role in producing the world’s future ski jumping stars.

Chris Lamb, a former USA Ski Jumping team member who has jumped competitively for nearly 20 years, contributes an essay to the book. Describing the sport, he writes, “As in a bird of prey, all senses are heightened and attuned to a particular environment, with one goal in mind: defying (to the best of your ability) the forces of gravity to beat out your competitors.”

Jumper: Flying in the Heartland
By Cooper Dodds
Daylight, 2019

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