The many twists and turns of the Pasadena freeway were now behind me as I drove up to the front door of the five-star Huntington Hotel in my red Chevy delivery truck. I was picking up six Olympic ski jumpers from the hotel.
Our destination was the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona where Sepp Benedicter had built a Nordic ski jump scaffold that was more than 150 feet high. His grand plan was to cover the in-run and landing hill with ground up ice and demonstrate skiers flying through the air for 150 or more feet. I was hired to pick up the jumpers every day after lunch, haul them to Pomona to the site of the jump, work as the announcer during the event and then haul them back to the Huntington Hotel at night.
For all of this I was being paid twice as much as I could earn as a carpenter at $16 a day.
When we got to Pomona, I took one look at this over 150-foot high scaffold and I was certainly glad I was not an Olympic ski jumper.
In 1951, no one could get paid for their Olympic ability. Yet all of these jumpers, including Art Devlin, had been flown from their hometowns, received room and board and all other first-class expenses.
The six-pack of Olympic ski jumpers hunkered down in the back of my delivery truck for the long ride to Pomona in the middle of the dense smog season.
Once we finally got to the jump scaffold it loomed over the fairgrounds like the Eiffel Tower does in Paris. From the rickety top of the in-run, which is where I would do my announcing, you could hear the blue ribbon pigs, donkeys and roosters in the nearby 4H club exhibits.
At about 2 p.m., several large trucks filled with ice blocks appeared at the outrun of the landing hill and the process began of grinding up the ice and spraying it on the landing hill. I don’t have a clue how many tons of ice got ground up, but it was a lot.
Sepp Benedicter had a strong reputation for his ability to promote skiing and it really showed when he pulled this entire thing together.
The in-run was steep and long enough so the jumpers could probably get going almost 35 or 40 miles per hour when they started jumping. If a jumper made a mistake on the in-run, or they landed wrong, they could fly off the side of the landing hill and land on lukewarm melted ice in large puddles about an inch or two deep on top of hot asphalt.
By the end of each set of jumps, I tried to get my announcing station moved to the bottom of the hill, but Sepp said, “No way.”
Between the afternoon jumps and the evening show, more and more ski-clothes dressed men and women showed up to sidestep the in-run and the landing hill. One of the ice packers got so excited by skiing on this hot September night that when he got to the county fairgrounds in Pomona, he discovered he had brought two left ski boots.
As the ski jumping event progressed, I bought three rolls of commercial Kodachrome to film it for my next feature ski film. I didn’t know that this type of film required a special filter so the footage I shot came out with a blue green caste that I explained away by blaming it on the dense smog.
On the way back to the Huntington Hotel with the Olympic jumpers half asleep in the back of my truck, they all pronounced the off-season event a success. When I started showing the feature films, the ski officials of the amateur status commission of the Olympics told me I couldn’t show the footage of the jumpers because I would ruin their amateur status.
The Olympic jumping tournament at the county fair was never held the second time.
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