Billed as the most “intense and extreme ski jumping tournament in the world,” Norway’s Raw Air 2017 has taken the momentum created by the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games and ran with it.
“As soon as we started with the project we looked to what happened in Lillehammer for the Youth Olympic Games,” said Arne Abraten, CEO of Raw Air.
His tournament involves the cities of Oslo, Trondheim, Vikersund and Lillehammer hosting the world’s finest ski jumpers over 10 days of continuous competition, 10-19 March. All this coming a little more than a year after the nation hosted the YOG 2016, its second Olympic event.
“I heard a presentation by the managing director of the YOG and I saw Lillehammer was doing a very nice thing, recruiting a new generation of volunteers. They used the Games to bring the youth in. In ski jumping, as in many other sports, we need the youth. We need them as athletes, we need them as spectators and we need them as volunteers.”
Abraten, whose day job is with the Norwegian Ski Federation, was particularly taken by the way in which organisers of Lillehammer 2016 approached the often tricky subject of youth versus experience.
“The biggest benefit, as far as I learned from the presentation, was that they could combine the motivation of youth with the experience of the old staff from the 1994 Olympics (also hosted in Lillehammer) who were still working on the hill as volunteers,” said Abraten. “Everybody wants to reach the youngsters but to do this, combined with making use of the experience of the older guys, I thought that was a fantastic thing.”
Raw Air, in which the top three finishers receive 100,000 Euros each, has been relentlessly targeting a young audience since the tournament’s inception 14 months ago. The name, the logo and the feel of the quick-fire tour were easy enough indicators, but Abraten and his colleagues have also gone after an ambitious off-the-hill programme.
“We have more focus on artists, on music, on side events designed for students. We even have a technology conference in Trondheim,” explained the Norwegian. The third stop on the tour, Trondheim, has a student population of 30,000, dominated by Norway’s University of Science and Technology.
“An after-ski party on one hand and a technology conference on the other,” Abraten laughed.
Trondheim is a great example of how the young population have really bought in to the tournament, with the university’s student union manager also the volunteer manager for Raw Air.
Each of the four cities boast hills famous in ski jumping folklore, from the iconic Holmenkollen in Oslo to the record-breaking Vikersund Hoppsenter. Each has previously hosted its own elite tournaments independent of one another. It is Abraten’s job to bring these organising committees – consisting of more than 3,000 members, drawn from local ski and sports clubs – together.
One of his first tasks was helping them open their doors to an influx of YOG-inspired volunteers.
“In Norway we are very proud of the events in 1994 and of winter sport. The YOG in Lillehammer put this into a new prospective and created a very positive picture of the future - what the youth did for the youth,” he said.
Inside the organisation, Abraten’s attempt to integrate fresh faces has had varying degrees of success.
“For certain areas we have very young people. When it comes to the media and social media it is not a problem to bring the younger people in because that is the language they speak. And it is not a threat or danger to the experienced people,” he said.
“But when it comes to positions involving decision-making and the official parts, I see there is not the same interest to open up to young people and include them.
“And that is something we have to change.”
The example set by the Lillehammer 2016 YOG, which had a CEO aged just 34 years old, is a constant motivation.
Were either Daniel Andre Tande or Andreas Stjernen, the top-ranked Norwegians in the current International Ski Federation (FIS) season-long World Cup standings, to win Raw Air it would clearly send the deeply patriotic crowd home happy.