By ANDREW KRUEGER
For The Daily News
IRONWOOD (AP) - It's been nearly 20 years since athletes soared into the sky off the Copper Peak ski jump near Ironwood.
But change is in the air.
The board that operates the western Upper Peninsula landmark is backing a new plan they hope will put Copper Peak back on the international stage and attract athletes from around the world for ski jumping - and not just in the winter, according to the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.
"This is really big news for ski jumping in the United States," said Bryan Sanders, a 1992 U.S. ski jumping Olympian and member of the Copper Peak board. "This makes us relevant again on the world scene."
Two key components of the plan are transforming Copper Peak from its present status as a ski-flying hill to a ski-jumping hill, and bringing summer ski jumping to the venue by 2016.
Copper Peak, which opened in 1970, features a 267-foot steel jump structure - that's about 26 stories high - built atop a 365-foot rock outcropping about 10 miles northeast of Ironwood.
Ski flying is similar to ski jumping but takes place on larger hills that allow for longer jumps.
Copper Peak had been the only ski flying hill in the Western Hemisphere - and one of just six in the world - but it was small for that circuit.
So the Copper Peak board, at the suggestion of and with backing from the Federation of International Skiing (FIS), wants to make the transition to the largest ski-jumping hill in the world.
"We haven't flown at Copper Peak in a number of years. Our hill has not progressed in size (as other slopes) have lengthened their landing slopes," said Charlie Supercynski, president of the Copper Peak board. "So the question is, what kind of a hill are we? Are we a small flying hill, or do we want to become a large jumping hill?"
And the answer, backed by a unanimous vote of the Copper Peak board last month, is to follow the FIS plan and switch to ski jumping. That will require, among other renovations, reshaping the hill to meet FIS ski jumping specifications.
In conjunction with the switch from ski flying to ski jumping, the plan envisioned by FIS and the Copper Peak board includes the addition of summer ski jumping.
How does summer ski jumping work?
The landing zone "is essentially skiing on plastic - a specially designed surface that looks like spaghetti that you stack up like shingles on a roof," Supercynski said. It approximates snow, allowing skiers to glide along as they land.
The jump itself would be outfitted with ceramic tile or a refrigerated ice surface - that's still to be determined - that athletes would glide down to make their runs.
The sport has grown in popularity in Europe because the warmer weather conditions are more favorable for fans, and there are fewer variables for skiers to contend with. Events often feature live TV coverage.
"We follow the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers," Supercynski said. In Europe, "they follow their skiers."
Copper Peak would become the largest summer ski jump in the world, so the hope is that it would become a stop on the FIS Ski Jumping Grand Prix circuit, perhaps for its season finale in September when fall colors would be reaching their peak in the U.P. There also is talk of making Copper Peak a national training center for USA Ski Jumping.
All told, adding a summer season would give Copper Peak the potential to host training and competitions many more days each year than a winter-only season. That, in turn, would bring a welcome economic boost to area businesses.
Copper Peak's backers have been working for some time to bring the venue back to prominence. Since the last competition there, in 1994, it has hosted only summer tourists who venture to the top for a stunning view. There had been plans for an exhibition event later this winter, but that has been put on hold for now.
Sanders traveled to Europe in October to discuss Copper Peak with FIS officials, and an FIS delegation visited the U.P. last month.
"FIS said it's a landmark, that we have to make this happen," Sanders said.
Getting the new plan in place was the easy part. Now Copper Peak must raise money for all of the improvements, which Supercynski said could cost several million dollars.
The Copper Peak board will start looking to local, national and international sponsors and sources for financial support; the process is just starting. Among early ideas for raising money is perhaps selling ads on the plastic landing surface.
If all goes well, there could be competitions at Copper Peak perhaps as early as 2015, otherwise in 2016.
"There's a lot of support and enthusiasm from our board," Supercynski said. "Can we pull it off? We hope we can."
Andrew Krueger is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.