Watching the jumping during the Olympics, we saw the emphasis on the usual countries: Finland, Sweden and Norway, a few other Europeans countries and Japan. The host country was mentioned, but the U.S. was dismissed — and the results showed why.
It wasn’t always this way.
While the Europeans dominated, we had contenders, and in 1968 Auburn’s John Bower won the Holmenkollen, the most prestigious Nordic Combined event in the world. But now, big hill jumping is simply not a big part of skiing in this country.
A group in Berlin, New Hampshire is working to change that. Wednesday, I met with Shawn Costello of Berlin, and Dan Warner, who learned to jump in Rumford. Both had jumped on the Nansen Jump in Milan. This historic jump has hosted national championships and countless regional meets. Shawn showed me an admission tag for a 1978 invitational ski jump. The donation was $2.50 and the event drew 10,000 spectators. The jump was listed at 80 meters, which means jumps of 250-plus feet were common. The old hill record was 273 feet.
A brief history is in order. The Nansen Ski Club is the oldest ski club in the U.S., founded in 1872. In the 1937, the club had a jump designed by Hussey Seating Company in Berwick. The company also designed the entire ski complex at Gunstock, New Hampshire. The jump was built by Alf Halverson and was in use up until 1985, when the last meet drew only ten jumpers.
In 1960 or ’61 the ski club gave the jump to the state. When jumping ended in 1985, the state was thinking of simply preserving it as a monument.
A small group of former jumpers and jumping enthusiasts had a different idea. “Friends of the Big Nansen” includes Costello and Warner, Dana Larsen, Vaughn Roy, Jay Poulin, Ed Bergeron, Brett and Scott Halverson (Grandsons of the original builder), Ben Wilson (representing the state), Peter Higbee and Scott Nicols. Two years ago, they formed an advisory committee and began putting together a plan to restore the jump to active jumping condition.
It’s a daunting task, but the group has an ambitious goal of having a meet on the Big Nansen next winter. So far, the area has been cleared of the brush and small trees that had grown up, accomplished by paying a local logger $1.00 plus the timber. According to Warner, a national jumping official who has worked at Lake Placid and other jumping locations, it will take three to four months to build up the knoll below the take off, make adjustments to the chute and landing hill, and build a new judges stand in a better position. A new staircase is also needed alongside the landing hill. They are hoping for in-kind donations of materials and lumber, but it will still take $300,000 to accomplish. There is also the factor of working on the chute and landing hill with a 35-degree pitch.
Snowmaking is another important component. Costello pointed out that the state has been very supportive actually bringing snowmaking equipment from Cannon (a state-owned ski area) for a meet when the jump is active. They were able to bring water from the Androscoggin River, just across the road, through a culvert under the road. Even with snowmaking, creating and maintaining a track down the chute is a challenge. If a thaw hits just before a meet, it’s really difficult to put down the snow and set a new track. Warner hopes to have and artificial track. That would also be a key feature allowing use of the jump in summer by adding a special surface to the landing hill.
Restoring the Nansen is only part of the goal. Currently, there is only one big jumping hill active in New England. A couple of weeks ago, Brattleboro, Vermont hosted their annual meet and attracted 42 jumpers drawing from as far away as the Midwest. There were also a handful of European jumpers. An eventual goal is to create a series of meets which would include Berlin, Brattleboro and possibly another site. USA Nordic is also involved in hopes of returning jumping to collegiate athletics, which could lead to a return of jumping to high school skiing. Another history note is needed here.
Jumping was dropped by the NCAA in the early 1980s, and with no possibility of jumping in college, high schools dropped the event, as well. Most small jumps where young jumpers developed their skills have disappeared.
“Friends of the Big Nansen” may have an immediate goal of restoring this historic jump, but the impact could go far beyond this site a short drive from Berlin. With the goal of someday going off that big jump, young skiers could create a demand for bringing back those small hills and someday flying on big hill in the Olympics.
Did you ever wonder how you would stack up racing against members of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame? Tuesday at Sunday River, skiers 50 and over will get a chance. For details, visit www.skimuseumofmaine.org. You can watch the race from the Barker Base Lodge.
Finally, last week I mentioned the Winter Fun Day at Black Mountain next weekend as part of the Dempsey Challenge. Actually, while the Fun Day will benefit the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, the Dempsey Challenge is a run, walk and cycle event scheduled for September 29-30. You can check the website dempseycenter.org and learn how you can use this as part of your conditioning program for next ski season. You can also learn how the center works with individuals and families suffering from cancer.
See you on the slopes.