By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
BERLIN — The Friends of the Nansen Ski Jump and Director Ben Wilson of the state Bureau of Historic Sites have set an ambitious goal: to raise approximately $300,000 to bring the local historic ski jump up to today’s safety and other standards so that world-class Fédération Internationale de Ski competition can begin in 2018-2019.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Wilson said at Wednesday’s Friends meeting at the Northland Dairy Bar.
Built in 1937, the structure was used for the 1938 Olympic Trials and four national championships, plus local and regional competitions. Although no longer used after 1985, steps were taken over the past two years to make it an historic attraction, to preserve its integrity, and — ultimately — to allow an American ski jumping star to be filmed flying off it.
On Saturday March 4, U.S. ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, a World Cup winner on the mend from serious injury, took a single thrilling jump at “Big Nansen, thanks to the combined efforts of the state, a major Red Bull sponsorship, local volunteers and regional businesses. Red Bull’s documentary footage of her soaring some 55 feet off the landmark jump will soon be aired on TV by advertisers NBC and Visa in order to whet American appetites for the 2018 Winter Olympics, set to begin on Feb. 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The extensive TV and newspaper coverage given Hendrickson’s jump, described as “a flying return to glory” by Red Bull’s coverage team, sparked lots of excitement and national attention.
In the nine months since then, Sport Development Director Jed Hinkley at USA Nordic Sport of Park City, Utah, personally visited the Route 16 site and endorsed plans to make Nansen ready for world-class competition.
Two experts — Ken Barker, president of the Salisbury, Conn., Winter Sports Association, and Dan Warner of Hanover, Maine, near Rumford — who are both very knowledgeable about today’s “nuts and bolts” of modern international ski jumping, volunteered to help with Nansen’s rebirth. They visited the site on Nov. 4 and took extensive jump and hill measurements and asked lots of questions. Friends president Shawn Costello of Berlin happily reported by email, “Both Ken and Dan believe that the Big Nansen can be brought back to being a viable part of the ski jumping world.”
Warner, a Rumford, Maine, native, was a ski jumper, cross-country racer and alpine skier who devoted much of his life to ski jumping at his home Chisholm Ski Club and is an official at the highest levels, from Lake Placid, N.Y., to Norway, Finland and Japan. His generous offer of providing guidance to the friends was accepted, and he was on hand at Wednesday’s meeting along with Costello, Wilson, Jay Poulin, Dona Larsen, Scott and Brett Halvorson and Scott Nichols of Lyme.
The estimated cost of bringing the facility up to competitive readiness is $300,000, far less than anticipated because of the amount of work already done plus the remarkably fine condition of the 80-year-old steel and wood structure, as professionally determined.
Safety for ski jumpers, spectators, coaches, judges and volunteers — everyone on the hill — is now the most important consideration, Warner explained. Smooth 2-foot-high deflection boards must be placed on both sides of the 6-foot-wide track and the landing, designed to contain jumpers and their skis in case of a fall. Posts must be installed so a tightly woven fabric fence can be put up to enclose the whole outrun area, separating skiers and spectators during competitions.
Very specific changes must also be made to the pitch of certain sections of Big Nansen and 15 start locations marked, bringing it into conformity with FIS rules. A large fabric windscreen held up by posts and controlled by pulleys could be installed atop the tower and more stairs added. The group consensus was that the work should be “high quality but low tech and low cost.”
None of these changes would represent permanent change, however. Wilson does not believe that they would hurt the jump’s chances of qualifying for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, an application to which the state bureau has committed itself.
Electric power and river water must also be brought to the ski jump, and a new judge’s stand built. Likely the existing one would become a flat-roofed coaches stand with some Plexiglas added.
The Friends, in addition to raising money to make the Nansen Ski Jump competitive, are committed to building a 28-meter hill, making it possible for ski jumping to be offered once again locally as an interscholastic N.H. high school sport.
Ski jump enthusiasts are already talking about developing an Eastern Four Hills Tournament: Lake Placid, Salisbury, Brattleboro, Vt., and Nansen.
Ski jumping originated in the 18th century, back when farmers in the Norwegian province of Telemark used small hills on alpine slopes for short jumps. Today it is a popular winter sport. Fans around the world gather to watch athletes soar through the air at competitions, with some 20 countries participating on the World Cup level. Men’s ski jumping was added to the Winter Olympics in 1924, and women’s 90 years later in 2014 at Sochi in Russia. Three men’s events for 65 male athletes and one women’s event for 35 female athletes are scheduled to take place between Feb. 10 and 19.