By Barbara Tetreault
MILAN — The job is unlike any Knollstone Contracting has ever tackled. The Bow firm specializes in general residential contracting, remodeling homes, building additions, installing wood and tile floors.
But for the last six weeks, the contractor has been installing a new deck and railing on the historic Nansen Ski Jump, working on the 171-foot high structure in conditions that include subzero temperatures, snow, sleet and wind.
Knollstone's Greg Baier said the job has been a challenging but fulfilling one for his six-man company.
It has been worthwhile, he said “to have a part — to be able to restore it and bring it back to life,”
The goal is to get the jump ready for Olympic jumper Sarah Hendrickson to highlight her return to competition with a scheduled February jump on a restored Nansen ski jump (the exact date has not been announced). Hendrickson was the first woman to ski jump in the Olympics when she competed in the 2014 Sochi games. The following year, she tore her right ACL during a practice run. She only returned to World Cup competition last month and is currently preparing for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
In November 2015 during her rehabilitation, Hendrickson visited the Nansen Ski Jump with her media team from Red Bull, which sponsors her. The N.H. Bureau of Historic Sites, with assistance from the Friends of Nansen Ski Jump, has been restoring the jump and property to make it a historic tourist site. During her visit in Hendrickson climbed to the top of the steel tower and immediately said she wanted to make a run off the jump. When it opened in 1938, the Nansen Ski Jump was the highest steel-structured jump in North America and hosted the Olympic trials that year and four national championships before modern equipment and new jumping techniques ended its active days. The last jump was in the mid-eighties.
With financial assistance from Red Bull, HEB Engineers did a structural analysis of the jump this fall. The analysis found the steel structure in good shape with only some minor repairs needed. But the evaluation said all of the wood decking and railing needed replacement. That is where Knollstone came into the picture.
Baier said the state and Red Bull were having a hard time finding a contractor willing to do the repair work in early winter. His firm was approached this fall, and he and members of his team drove north to check out the project. He said the reaction was mixed.
“A couple of guys were gung ho and a couple were a little more timid,” he said. Baier was in the gung-ho category, and the firm pushed out scheduled projects to take on the ski jump.
The work got underway Nov. 29, with the team moving here and living together for most of the duration. Along with Baier, the company includes Austin St. Laurent, Will Marvin, Tyler Cummings, Seth Passler and Joshua Muniz.
Working on any historic property always poses challenges and Baier said that was especially true on the ski jump. For one thing, the jump is not straight but he said they followed the original contours to maintain the historical integrity.
The team rigged up a pulley system to bring wood and supplies from the landing to the jump. On the jump, they devised a sled to pull the wood to the work site. Three of the team worked on the jump at a time, wearing special cleats on their boots to prevent them from slipping and sliding.
The weather was also a factor. There were days when the temperature was subzero, and the deck would be frozen and iced up. But a day later, it would be warm and the crew would be working in shirtsleeves.
The there was the wind. On one occasion, Baier said the wind it registered 40 knots or about 46 mph on the tower.
“The wind is definitely an issue,” he said, noting that the jump sways in high winds.
For the deck, Baier said, they used 900 pressure treated 2-inch by 8-inch boards, clearing out Lowe’s throughout Maine and New Hampshire. The railing used 2-inch-by-4-inch boards.
As the old boards were removed and replaced, they were dropped off the tower. Sometimes, the boards would get caught up in the structure and the crew would use a harpoon gun to free them.
Short winter days made for early starts. The crew would get to the site at 6:15 a.m., usually catching the sunrise as they started work. With the short days, the work would end at 3:30 p.m.
Stopping in frequently at the Millyard in Berlin after work, Baier said they became known as "the ski jump guys." He said people would inquire about their progress or share stories about the jump. One day, Baier said Walter Nadeau of the Berlin and Coos County Historical Society stopped at the site with coffee and doughnuts.
Appreciative of the local support, the firm has three American flags it has flown on the tower during construction. One will stay with the firm, but the other two will go to the Millyard and the historical society.
Baier said he expects to wrap up the deck work this coming week. His firm will be back in warmer weather to renovate the judging stand.
The crew plans to be present when Hendrickson does her jump.
“We’re all coming up to see that,” Baier said. He added that while he is proud of the work Knollstone has done restoring the deck, he has no desire to jump off it himself.
“You couldn’t pay me to jump (off it),” he laughed.