The Salisbury Winter Ski Association (SWSA, pronounced “swaa-sa”) is a local club in Salisbury, Connecticut that teaches kids to ski jump. Now in its 89th year, SWSA is one of the last all-volunteer run clubs in the country.
Every Sunday morning, year-round, a group of volunteers (who refer to themselves as Swamp Yankees) drive down the back road in a picturesque New England setting to meet up and to maintain the jumps. There is no monetary return, just the hope that they will have a great Jumpfest—a three-day event every winter which features a variety of US Ski and Snowboard Association-sanctioned jump competitions, a chili cook-off, a human dog-sled race, deliciously greasy burgers and the Snow Ball.
It’s been a long time, but it’s a great feeling. Comparable to nothing else. — Larry Stone
“I grew up here. It’s a homegrown club with a huge tradition that goes way way back into the ’30s,” says former US Olympic coach, Larry Stone. In the past, “All communities had their own ski club. It was a part of small town America’s cultural make-up,” Stone tells CH. “All these blue collar worker guys had a sport to go to in the winter. It was clubs against other clubs; it was a really neat part of country living, but things have changed. SWSA is keeping that part alive which is so cool.”
It’s the best feeling ever. If you have a really good jump you get carried by the wind. — Gabby Armstrong
When we arrive on the opening night of Jumpfest, a local volunteer named Bullet lets us pass down the road to Satre Hill, where jumpers practice as the sun fades and volunteers scramble to get everything set up for the cold night ahead. The lights turn on above the hills and the crowd starts to arrive, along with Salisbury native and former Olympian Roy Sherwood who takes a front row seat. His patriarchal presence signals the beginning of Jumpfest 2015.
You need to be a poet to explain it. — Mark Breen
Over the next three days, jumpers hurl themselves off the 70-meter jump, traveling about 50 mph in the air, as onlookers drink beer, hot cocoa and warm themselves by dueling bonfires. Dale Jones (who has been the event’s announcer for 25 years) calls out the incredible jump lengths over the loud speaker. This year, around 2,000 people came out to see Jumpfest’s action, and a couple dozen hardworking jumpers will now go on to the Junior Nationals.
Images by Kate Erwin