The song rolled over in my head as I caught myself humming the rhythm for days after returning from the Planica ski-jumping hill. The first chorus from this polish folk song is played whenever a ski-flyer lands past the 250 meter mark on the famous hill that is called Planica. In sync with the rhythm, hundred of fans waved their country flag: Slovenia, Polska, Austria, Netherlands, Deutschland, Japan, and one lone America flag, happily danced through the air. Music over the speak was accompanied by a variety of noise makers – horns and rattles creating a fantastic unified roar of satisfaction. I wonder now what it sounded like for the fliers clipping out of their skies as they waited for their score. The only jumper who was greeted by almost complete silence was the Russian jumper. Not too many folks cheered for America either. But when a Slovenian flier was on the gate, the crowd went crazy!!! It was a good weekend on the hill, so we heard it A LOT!
But, let me back up a bit and set the scene. After our half day tour through Ljubljana. we checked in to our room in Podkoren. We stayed at a recently renovated lovely house/hotel that had been in the family for more than 100 years. The house was decorated in local themes – one dominant theme being a carnation flower pattern. As we checked in our lovely and accommodating hosts asked us when we’d like our breakfast. Then we made a little dinner from the foods we’d gathered at the market in Ljubljana and turned in for an early night. The next day we would head to the hill!
The next morning, we used this fantastic European invention (an electric tea kettle) to boil some water. Seriously, I don’t know why we don’t use these in America! Incidentally, I purchased one when I was home for Christmas because I now find life difficult without this kitchen gadget. I stirred up a cup of surprisingly good instant coffee and took a stroll through the town. I often have a hard time sleeping in, even if I’m late to bed, which is why I don’t stay up late too often nowadays. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take a sunrise run or walk in the neighborhood where I’m sleeping, which is why I prefer to find a central city hotel, or a place in an interesting neighborhood. Sometimes I meet folks, but often I’ll meet a friendly cat or focus on listening to the birds chattering to each other. I notice more details as I walk with the absence of human interaction – beautiful lace curtains, interesting architectural details on the buildings, slightly hidden political messages in the stickers attached to a power box.
On this morning, as I strolled through town, the sun slowly crested the mountains. As I held my coffee mug in my hand to stay warm, I greeted a man out walking his dog. A few blocks later, I paused to admire some horses in a small corral in the center of town. The town was very small, maybe 10 blocks, and as I made a right turn to loop back toward the hotel for breakfast, I could hear a burbling brook and was delighted to find a functioning sawmill! I took pictures and a small video to send to my dad in Oregon who is a lumberjack and has his own sawmill.
After a delicious breakfast of fresh local farm eggs, local yogurt and delicious Turkish style coffee, we took off for a hike to the ski-jumping hill. This is one thing I loved about the event – the only way to arrive was by shuttle bus, helicopter, or the best way of all, a hike through the forest! Fans proudly flew their flags and happily chatted as they trekked to the ski hill. Some already with a bottle of bier in their hand at 8 in the morning. Yes, I kid you not. The atmosphere was a bit NASCARish. How was it like NASCAR? The first thing is the flags (country flags instead of numbered car flags but some flags were emblazoned with the name of a favorite ski-flier) and country scarfs (in the place of ball caps), copious volumes of bier, greasy food, loud noise (in this case coming from the fans and not the athletes – cars on the tracks), and lots of friendly folk happy to meet fellow fans.
On the first day the jumping began in the afternoon, so we planned a diversion hike on our way to visit Zelenci Spring – the headwaters of the Danube River. Trees were breaking bud and the forest floor was dotted with wildflowers. Very few people hiked along the same path. We were enveloped in the gentle sounds of the forest. As we walked, we were amazed at the spring scenery because we expected everything to be covered in snow. In fact, the weather seemed a bit strange – it was very warm and sunny and I regretted that I hadn’t packed a light weight long-sleeved hiking shirt to protect my arms from the sun.
As we walked the meandering path to the spring we enjoyed the shade and after a short distance, caught our first glimpse of Zelenci spring – sheltered on one side by trees and opening up onto a meadow with mountains towering above. We approached the spring bank and looked to the left to find an observation tower with some people taking in the views. Ahead of us was a small dock. We walked to the edge, sat down, and swung our boots over the water. After a few minutes the folks in the tower headed off down the trail and we had the spring to ourselves.
I began snapping pictures as we studied the spring, searching for signs of life. After a few moments we spotted a trout swimming through the crystal clear water. Then we saw another, and another. In total we watched about a dozen beautiful trout lazily swimming through the water. Midges danced above the water, providing bait for the fish, who occasionally broke the surface leaving behind circular ripples in the wake of their attack. As we continued gazing in the water we saw caddis fly larvae walking along the floor. Caddis flies are amazing creatures – the larvae build for themselves a case that they carry with them to protect their soft body. The case can be used to identify the location where they live because they use local “supplies” – rocks, twigs, bits of plants – that are glued together with silk. My mind flew back to my aquatic entomology course at UC Davis as I explained to my friend the curious details of the life of a caddis fly.
Time passed quickly as we shared memories of fishing in our home countries. The silence was broken by a runner who burst out from the trees and stopped to say hello. She asked where we were from and we answered Japan and the USA. Her face was puzzled, and we went on to explain our connection via a German employer. As we chatted we discovered that she worked with the US and Canadian ski-jumping teams. We inquired about the health of Kevin Bickner, who had recently had an injury during a jump. I was looking forward to him jumping in the team competition the next day and she reassured me he was in good health and would jump! We snapped a photo for the memories. Then after a quick viewing from the platform, we continued onto Planica.
The trail was now filled with more fans traveling to the event. We strolled up the hills and through a meadow, then a path through the forest and suddenly we were there and I had my first view of a ski-jumping hill!
What a curious thing it is. A giant piece of ice and snow, striped with lines to mark distances. A narrow ramp at the top from which the jumpers leap after seating themselves on the starting gate – which looked to me to be a relatively small piece of wood. The ramp reminded me a bit of the giant slide at the pool that we all nervously waited in line for as a child. The courage of these jumpers. Hurling themselves through the air at speeds of 100+ km per hour!!!
The sun was beating down on us and I hadn’t brought a hat, so I bought my first souvenir – a felt Slovenian cowboy style hat. My friend bought us a couple of Slovenian team scarfs. We asked a photographer we met to snap our photo and then headed off to set up our viewing station.
My friend had a giant Japanese flag to wave after attaching it to a collapsible fishing post. Such a clever system! I never would have thought of such a thing, but she wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other fans were expanding their fishing poles and hoisting flags to the sky to cheer for their country jumpers.
As the crowds began to grow I ventured off to find lunch. We’d been hiking for a few hours and I’d worked up a hunger, besides I saw people eating these giant sandwich-type things and I was curious to try it out.
After a few more minutes, the jumpers began to fly. Between jumps we chatted with the Polish fans who were stationed around us. Friendly folk! German was the common language, although some spoke English, and we chatted about our respective country cultures between loud rounds of cheering for the jumpers. Bier flowed and the sound level climbed. I wasn’t drinking bier in support of my Project Life goals and it made the people watching even more entertaining.
I used my telephoto lens to snap some photos of the jumpers and also found it served as a nice binocular to get a better view of the jumpers on the top of the hill.
After the jumpers were finished for the day, we hiked back to town to rest up for day 2. During the evening, we watched some local TV coverage of the day and my friend explained to me more about what was happening and how the jumpers were scored. I felt more prepared to watch the next day. It’s not all about distance. Points are deducted depending on the direction and strength of the wind, or the style of the landing.
The second day was the team event and this was my chance to root for Team USA. I strapped my American flags on to my backpack for our hike to the hill. I’d bought them at Walmart on a recent trip home and was pleased to discover they were actually Made in America!
As we approached the ticket controls, we met a crowd of folks waving Canadian and American flags and enjoyed a round of high-fives. As we set up our cheering station, my friend attached one of my American flags to her pole so we could wave it wildly for the American jumpers.
The jumping began as we walked up and it was a spectacular day at the hill. Team USA wound up placing 7th out of 12 teams, which was a very respectable place for the team. But, the most amazing moment was toward the end of the day. The great Austrian jumper Stefan Kraft set a new record on the hill. Everyone went wild! Then the next jumper from Poland, beat the new record!!! Everyone went completely nuts at this point!!!! The starting gate was moved to ensure safety of the subsequent jumpers. The guys were practically jumping as far as possible on the hill. Conditions were incredible – the perfect wind.
Jumping ended early-afternoon and we walked down the hill happy and satisfied with the day. After a quick lunch, we hoped in the car and headed off to explore Bled. Bled is fabulous enough o deserve its own post. More on one of the prettiest places on the planet later.
My impressions of a European ski-jumping event. It’s a lively, loud, friendly, rambunctious environment. I was so glad that I took a “leap” and decided to travel with my friend to Planica. As a bonus, the countryside and people of Slovenia are lovely. I’m tempted to return this summer for a visit with my husband.