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By Jeff Roberts

In 2007, our daughter Nellie was seven years old and loved slalom skiing. She also enjoyed riding on the skis she learned to ski on at age 3: 73” O'Brien jump skis. The boys [Will (5) and Edward (3)] were zipping across the wakes on the O’Briens as often as their turn came around. They could slalom, but preferred to ride the jumpers.


Bryan and Kevin Melnuk who grew up skiing on a nearby lake came to visit.  They were world-ranked jumpers and 3-event skiers who had received the very best of instruction from Matt Rini as they rose to that level.  Sitting on our dock watching the kids ski that day, they encouraged me to build a smaller jump, one that would not be intimidating to the kids.  Bryan and Kevin were convinced that all three of our kids would quickly become proficient at riding over the mini.  They explained that with proper instruction, this low-risk, low-fear introduction to jumping could give our kids the confidence at a very young age to get very good at jumping on the mini and then make a seamless transition later to the big jump.  The Melnuks encouraged me to make the jump long enough for the kids feel like they were riding in control across the surface.  They suggested at least 12’ out of water.

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Edward, 4 years old, skiing on jump skis, 2008

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Nellie, 8 years old, enjoying the lake, 2008

I listened and asked a lot of questions.  I didn’t want to be “one of those dads” who pushed too soon or t0o hard.  As summer became fall and fall became winter, I continued to wrestle with the dilemma.  Are they too young, too small?  All three of our kids begged me to build it.  I spoke with my wife, Sandy, other ski parents and other jumpers.  I spoke with our lake partners, both with young prospective ski jumpers.  With months of mind-wrestling with this idea behind me and reluctant approval from Sandy, I concluded that I would build the mini.  I wanted the jump to be adjustable – to provide more challenge as the kids progressed – until they were ready for the big jump. 


Ultimately, we launched the original mini in May, 2008. The height could be adjusted from 18” to 36". The surface was 18’ long and 8’ wide with about 13 ½’ out of water. It was built out of wood with a fiberglass hand-laid surface covering the plywood surface in one continuous sheet. Little did I know what it would lead to…

At 18 mph and with the jump 18” tall, Will (age 6) went first and landed every jump that first set – and for many more to come.  Little 4 year-old Edward didn’t ride out his first attempt.  After that, he figured it out and didn’t fall until weeks later when he started cutting at it.  Nellie (8) landed every attempt that first day as well.  Across the lake, Sammy (9) and Brett (7) Stackpole joined in the fun and all 5 kids had a blast.  Any fear was gone after each skier’s first set.  Then the learning began.  We were able to make minor adjustments in technique while keeping it fun.  Soon the height went to 24”.  Then they started “cutting” at it.  They each progressed at their own pace, but by the end of 2008, all five kids were all doing at least single wake cuts at 22 mph over the 36” tall ramp.  The other neighbors are the Schultzes.  The have a boy (Brendan) and a girl (Katie) who are one and three years younger than Edward, respectively.  Brendan began jumping on the mini in 2012 and Katie in 2013.  

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Edward, 4 years old, landing a jump off of the 18" ramp, 2008

We credit the mini jump with providing a safe, virtually fearless opportunity for the kids (and many, many adults) to experience ski jumping.  It offered these beginners a starting point of fun for their jumping.  The transition to the big jump was different for each of the seven, but in all cases much easier than starting on the big jump.  The mini allowed us to teach the right technique with countless repetitions so that muscle memory developed before the kids went over the big jump.  The proof is in the pudding.  Each of the Lake Richard kids has taken their jumping skills first acquired on the mini to a very high level. 1

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Lake Richard kids, 2008

In addition to these seven kids, we estimate that we have taught over 150 people (10% of them over age 15) to ski jump on the mini.  Each year, a ski club from Lake St. Louis comes for a day and we teach 10+ kids to jump. Of those attempting to learn on the mini, only 2 or 3 kids (and a handful of stubborn adults) have ever left the lake without landing a jump over the mini.


While we recognize the Lake Richard kids’ success is not due wholly to the mini, we have witnessed the fun they had while learning to jump the right way.  By making the experience fun, it became something they wanted to do over and over. 

It is vastly simpler to make a technique correction on the mini than on the big jump.  On several occasions, we have taken one of the kids off the big jump to correct a flaw by going down to the mini.  In short, the mini takes the fear element out of the mental equation.  It is much simpler to focus on making corrections when the skier isn’t fighting fear.


No one has ever been hurt jumping off the predecessor mini or the current Mini. 


Ethan Brown learning the Mini , 2008


Will Roberts competing at the Illinois State tournament, 2020

2020 was the last year for the original wood mini jump at our lake.  It served us well for 13 years, but was failing structurally.  We recently designed and built a new mini, capable of being adjusted from 18” tall to 40” tall.  It is 8’ wide and 16’ long with 13’ out of water.  Nellie’s boyfriend (James Webber, a mechanical engineer) took my hand drawings on graph paper and put them on a computer-assisted drawing (CAD) program.  He made a number of novel technical improvements to the design along the way.  Together, he and I built an engineered mini that incorporates and improves upon a number of features from the 2008 version.  Building it this time out of corrosion resistant aluminum (instead of wood), we added a number of new features as well.  In short, we believe we have designed a very user-friendly, safe jump that can be readily replicated.

We believe we have compelling evidence for the benefits the Mini offers to a private ski lake, a ski club, a show club, a ski school or a collegiate team.   


[1] All seven kids on Lake Richard have been ranked in the top 10 jumpers nationally.  As of October, 2021, some of these kids (now ages 14-23) have qualified for Jr. Masters, Junior and Elite Worlds, the Jr. U.S. Open and the Jr. Malibu Open, with several #1 and Top 5 world rankings.  Two have jumped well over 200’.  We have a National Record, multiple Regional and State Records, several National Championships and over 20 top 5 finishes at Nationals, as well as numerous #1 National rankings and top 5 National rankings.  Five of our skiers have skied collegiately – so far.  

I'm convinced that we need a Mini.

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