Salisbury Ski JumpLongby Janet Serra — Oohs and ahs and gasps of disbelief are guaranteed when the best young ski jumpers in the Northeast compete, sailing through the air in the 91st Annual Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships Sunday, Feb. 12, during a three-day Jumpfest.

The event will take place at Satre Hill in Salisbury, a classic New England village in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. The masters of this challenging sport will show the amazing coordination and grace needed to fly some 200 feet in the air with a happy landing, a feat that always brings admiring cheers from the crowd. The jumpers at Satre Hill are Junior National hopefuls, and some will go on to represent the U.S. in the Olympics.

The championships are the highlight of Jumpfest, which features night-time target jumping, human dog sled racing, ice carving, a chili cook off, a pancake breakfast, a bourbon tasting and a Snow Ball dance in addition to ski jumping contests.

The fun begins on Friday, Feb. 10, with target jumping under the lights beginning at 7 p.m. with jumpers flying under the lights, unfettered by judges points — their only goal is to land on a bull’s-eye target for big prizes and big fun! When the target jumping ends, the real zaniness ensues with the Human Dog Sled Races. These are teams of six slightly crazy folks, five pulling and one riding on a sled of the group’s own design. They careen around a .3-mile course, and, well, accidents do happen. Crazy fun to watch! Friday Night Lights admission is $15.

The fun continues on Saturday, Feb. 11, with the Salisbury Invitational Ski Jumping Competition when jumpers compete for prestigious SWSA trophies! The fun warms up with practice from 11 a.m. to noon; the competition begins at 1 p.m. Spectators on Saturday can also watch Junior 20- and 30-meter jumping at 9 a.m.

Saturday events also include an ice carving demonstration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the White Hart Green featuring two nationally recognized carvers and the Snow Ball Dance at the Lakeville Firehouse Annex from 8 p.m. to midnight. Admission for the Salisbury Invitational Ski Jumping Competition is $15 and admission to the Snow Ball Dance is $15.

The Eastern U.S. Ski Jumping Championships takes place on Sunday, Feb. 12. This is the big one. Jumpers vie not only for trophies but also a spot on the Junior National Team!  Practice and warm ups for this event is held from 11 a.m. to noon with the competition beginning at 1 p.m. Admission for this event is $15.

If you have never seen ski jumping live, you have never truly witnessed the sport. Standing amidst the ringing cowbells, with crowds cheering on their favorites, hearing skis slapping against the landing hill as these brave jumpers soar up to 200 feet through the air at speeds up to 50 miles an hour, is something you will never forget.  Even if the winter looks brown outside your window, it’s white over at Satre Hill thanks to state-of-the-art snow guns.

For happy viewing, fans are advised to dress warmly in lots of layers and to bring a cowbell, the traditional way to cheer on the jumpers.  Hot food and beverages are available to help watchers keep warm. Limited bleacher seating is provided or guests may bring their own lawn chairs.

Proceeds help fund the all-volunteer, non-profit Salisbury Winter Sports Association, host of the annual event. SWSA provides cross-country and jumping equipment and training for area children. For a full schedule and complete information, see www.jumpfest.org.

For more area information on what to see and do in the Litchfield Hills and to sign up for a monthly newsletter visit www.litchfieldhills.com