Second annual Irontown Rail Jam to return during Heikki Lunta Winter Festival


Fischer Genau/NW

RAIL JAM – Skier flips off of a feature during the finals of last year’s rail jam held in 2022. The Irontown Rail Jam returns Friday, Feb. 3, during the Heikki Lunta Winter Festival in downtown Negaunee.

Fischer Genau

The second ever Irontown Rail Jam will take place today, Feb. 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in downtown Negaunee.

Both skiers and snowboarders will compete and ride various freestyle features like jumps and rails. The event is free to the public and registration costs $20 for competitors. Cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place in the competitive men’s ski and snowboard jams and for first and second place in the women’s ski and snowboard jams. 

Brandon Croney, owner of The Compound Ski and Board Shop, is organizing and producing the event. He said it is a great opportunity for athletes to show their skills on a high-quality course and for the public to watch something exciting.

“What I like most is exposing skiing and snowboarding to a community that usually does not get to see it,” Croney said.

The rail jam is part of Heikki Lunta, a winter festival in Negaunee that takes place on Friday and Saturday and includes an ice fishing competition, snowshoe lantern tours and fireworks. Last year was the first time the rail jam was included in the festival, and also the first time an event like this was hosted in Negaunee.

Croney was not sure how many people would attend the rail jam in its first year, but despite a low number of pre-registered competitors, he kept saying, “You build it, and they will come.”

Thirty-five riders registered the day of the jam, and several came from as far away as Wisconsin and the Lower Peninsula. Emily Eckel, a Northern student and president of the NMU Ski and Board club, said close to 800 people came to watch.

“It was a great community event, and everybody seemed to love it,” Eckel said. “I had so many friends that showed up there that have never skied or snowboarded and were just there because it is fun and it is close and it is something to do.”

Eckel did not compete but was there as a representative for Red Bull and got to watch everybody taking their runs.

“All of the competitors were absolutely amazing,” Eckel said. “There were a lot of people from all over the Midwest that showed up and they were all really, really good.”

Eckel will be representing Red Bull again this year, handing out drinks at the Red Bull truck where there will also be a DJ. Friday’s weather forecast is a high of four degrees Fahrenheit, and to help people stay warm, The Compound is providing hand warmers and toe warmers to everyone present. There will also be food trucks and fire pits, and plenty of spots nearby to go for food and drinks.

Located by the corner of Iron and Silver Street, the event is near businesses like Campfire Coffee, Upper Peninsula Brewing Company and Smarty’s Saloon. Croney recommends that people check out these local spots and enjoy their food and beverages outside in Negaunee’s social district. 

Anyone can ride the course for $10 from 5 to 5:45 p.m. The competition officially starts with the snowboarders at 6 p.m. who will ride for 45 minutes, and the skiers will follow at 7 p.m. and ride for another 45 minutes. Five finalists will be chosen from each group for the final stage that begins at 8 p.m. and includes both skiers and snowboarders. This will last around 35 minutes, and Croney hopes to have all of the winners announced and prizes handed out by 9:30 p.m.

Though the event is structured similarly to the jam last year, Croney said there have been a few changes.

“I am excited because everything is a little bit grander this year,” Croney said. “Everything is a little bit bigger, a little bit better.”

Croney’s team has been hard at work preparing the course for Friday, using an excavator to shape the snow, building a taller takeoff than last year’s for the riders and setting up multiple freestyle features. Come Friday morning, everything will be ready for a frigid winter night of fun and excitement. Croney said the only thing they need now is the competitors. 

“We need them to come out and show us what’s up,” Croney said.