Learning to Fly

by Annie Stoltie | February 2022

Coach Larry Stone mentors the next generation of ski jumpers

Stone has attempted to retire five times. And now, at age 76, the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF) jumping coach has given up trying to walk away. After decades of working with kids in the Junior Jumping Program, Stone says his latest group of athletes—18 in all—have more talent than he’s ever seen. He’s pretty sure he’s got a handful of future Olympians. So why stop now?

“I do a lot of things that involve intensity,” Stone admits. Like singing and picking his Telecaster with his band, The Harbingers, at gigs all over the Adirondacks. Leading a bird-hunting guide business in the woods behind his home in Wilmington. And then there’s ski jumping. When you jump off a hill the size of a 30-story building, “there’s that buzz that you get—it just cleans your clock out. Nobody ski jumps to get the calm you do in yoga. You ski jump because you want to fly. It’s extremely addictive … like an amazing, transcendental feeling.”

Stone no longer flies himself, but he experiences the thrill through his young athletes. “I go through every jump with every kid in my head and my heart,” he says. “It’s safer that way.”      

NYSEF’s junior jumpers are ages five through 15—ski jumping is a sport you’ve got to grow up in, says Stone. He started young in Salisbury, Connecticut, at that time “a Scandinavian town” with eight ski jumps. He competed while he was a student at Williams College, then came to Lake Placid in 1966 to teach at Northwood School. There, he coached Jay Rand, who made the 1968 Olympic team, competing in the Grenoble, France, winter games. Newly inspired, Stone quit coaching and went back to jumping. For a while he lived in Woodstock, training there and trying to make it as a musician. (Among his rock star neighbors were members of The Band.) By 1974 he was one of the top Eastern jumpers, but shifted his focus back to coaching. He developed a successful program in Salisbury—his boys and girls made up half of the Eastern Junior Olympic team. From there he moved back to Placid to be the NYSEF head jumping/Nordic combined coach, working with athletes including Olympians Billy Demong and Lindsey Van.

“The hardest part about coaching these kids,” says Stone, is that “they all want to be Slovenian superstars and go big before they’re ready. If you let them go up too soon, they get a little scared and they jump defensively, with fear.” First, “they need to perfect their technical and emotional ability.”

But when the time comes, “and you tell them, ‘Let’s go,’ they get up there and look down that track and think, I guess I got to do it now. And with that flutter in the chest, they do it.” After their first jump, “you see them stop at the bottom, look up at the hill and say, ‘Holy smokes, I really did it!’ They take their skis off and then start running back to the lift to do it again.”

Ski jumping, says Stone, “is an allegory for life. That’s why I love to get kids involved, no matter whether they end up being an Olympian or not. They have to face up to challenges and use courage to conquer them.”    

The 2022 Olympic Ski Jump Nordic Combined Trials, a competition to determine who will make the US Olympic Team, happens at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex on its new, world-class jump, December 25th and 26. Check out www.usanordic.org for more information.

Visit NYSEF’s website, www.nysef.org, to learn more about its snowsport programs.

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