Westby provides 'home away from home' for international ski jumpers

Published On: Feb 02 2013 06:24:01 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 04 2013 08:16:02 AM CST
WESTBY, Wis. -

If you enjoy watching ski jumpers fly off crazy high jumps, then this is the weekend to be in Westby.

Saturday was the second and final day of this year's Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament.

About 30 ski jumpers from around the world took off at speeds up to 60 miles-per hour -down a 450 foot hill.

The event draws in thousands of spectators and takes hundreds of volunteers to make sure the course is ready to go.

Last night's snowfall created a little bit of last minute work this morning, but organizers say it didn't stop the event from being another huge success.

“It hampered a little bit because it took the hill crew (a little bit) to get the hill ready so we didn't get much jumping before opening ceremonies, but everything is ready to go and we're going to have some really great jumps and a great afternoon of ski jumping,” said Scott Yttri of the Snowflake Ski Club.

The tournament has been a tradition in Westby for the past 90 years, which is why it's no surprise that it has spawned some other traditions in the community.

Ski Jumpers from all over the world have traveled thousands of miles to get to Westby for the tournament.

While the Norway team may be far away from home, having a local family open their homes to them is making the experience that much more special.

The Snowflake Ski Jump tournament in Westby is something the coach from Norway, Stig Fredheim has looked forward to all year long.

“In Norway, it’s not that many people on the hills, so not many spectators, and so it’s a lot more fun here,” said Fredheim.

And besides the extra cheering and loud cow bells, something else Fredheim looks forward to is having a comfortable place to relax.

“We usually stay in hotels back home, so that's a big difference too, but I think it's awesome,” said Fredheim.

As part of the tournament tradition, all of the skiers from around the world are paired up with host families living in the area.

For some of these skiers, it's their first trip to America.

“It's big,” said one of the skiers.

But this Fredheim's second year staying with the same family.

“Mostly I remember it as the cat house,” said Fredheim. “That's what we speak on it back home, but it’s really good though. We like it. Love pets.”

Dan and Karen Ellefson and their many cats are opening up their home to provide the skiers a place to sleep and eat. It’s a home away from home free of charge.

They've done this for the past 10 years? Maybe 11. It's a little hard to remember.

“We've had Finland the Americans stay here, and Norwegians like four years I think?” said Karen. “Seven years,” said Dan. “We try to go year after year and say, ‘ok who did we have that year?’”

Its a chance for the Ellefsons to make new international friends around a sport they love, especially for Dan who was a ski jumper back in the day.

“Once you get older, it hurts a little more once you fall.”

“Dan is kind of our inside man when we're here because he knows everything about the hill and how the hill is, and the tracks and everything,” said Fredheim.

And while their stay will soon come to an end, these skiers know there will always be room for them at the Ellefson's table if they'd like to come back next year.

“Yeah we will,” said Karen. “We'll have Norway. If they want us, we'll take them.”

The Norweigan Ski Jumping team will leave Westby this Sunday.

They'll head to Michigan for another tournament before heading back home to Norway later next week.