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Storrs Hill Getting a Jump on the Weather

  • Competitors watch as Andover Outing Club's Chris Jones takes his second jump in the Open division at the Junior National Qualifier at Storrs Hill in Lebanon, N.H. on Jan. 18, 2015. (Valley News - Sarah Shaw) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The 50-meter ski jump at Storrs Hill Ski Area in Lebanon will be equipped with stainless steel tracks beginning this season.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, August 07, 2017

Lebanon — When Storrs Hill Ski Area ski jumping coaches Eric Smith and Ryan McKeon learned the sport as children, it seemed Mother Nature provided all the snow coverage they needed every winter.

That has proven unreliable in recent years, with limited snowfall demanding more snowmaking, and mild temperatures — even mid-winter — often melting it away.

Beginning this season, that shouldn’t deter much from the ski area’s programs. Joining many ski jumping facilities in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, Storrs Hill has purchased stainless steel tracks for the 50- and 25-meter jumps’ in-runs, eliminating the need for snow. It also gets the ski area closer to being able to offer year-round training, though for that it still would need to implement secure artificial landing areas.

Durable and nearly as fast as the natural stuff, the steel tracks will wipe out the laborious task of transporting man-made snow to the in-runs, which has been increasingly tedious in recent years for Storrs Hill’s limited staff. It also will virtually guarantee that mild conditions, such as those that caused a cancellation of last winter’s Junior Nationals qualifying tournament at Storrs Hill, won’t continue to hinder events.

The steel tracks cost approximately $13,000 and were made possible by donations to the nonprofit Lebanon Outing Club, which has managed the city-owned ski area since 1986. The LOC is currently raising funds for installation, which it plans to facilitate by October.

Storrs Hill’s 10-meter beginner jump is made of earthen material and will not be fitted with steel tracks.

“This is huge in so many ways,” said LOC President Cory Grant, of Enfield. “No more ‘hit or miss’ with the weather like it’s been for so many years. It will save a ton in snowmaking costs and a lot of hours of labor. Having consistent, reliable jumps will be huge for the ski area and this region.”

The Hanover-based Ford Sayre Ski Council and the New England Ski Jumping Nordic Combined group have already expressed interest in seeking time on the new jumps, Grant said, and the LOC personnel expects their appeal to expand as word travels.

“We’ll be the only ski area with these kind of tracks in New England,” Grant said.

“That means groups from Salisbury, Conn., to Maine and New York, when they find out about us, will probably want to come check us out.”

It should also allow second-year Storrs Hill coaches Smith and McKeon to spend more time instructing rather than engaged in maintenance. The 30-something pair — both of whom learned to ski jump at Storrs Hill and went on to compete nationally — spent too many hours last year working to render the jumps usable. Sometimes, the efforts bore little fruit.

“The landing area is much easier to maintain, because you can make snow and push it around,” said McKeon, a 1999 Lebanon High graduate who, 20 years ago, earned a podium finish at the U.S. Junior Nationals in Utah. “The in-runs are much more difficult because you’re transporting snow up there with big bags and an equipment sled. … And then it can all melt before you know it.”

McKeon expects the price of the steel tracks to be reimbursed in the form of reduced snowmaking costs alone within three seasons.

“That’s not even including the human cost,” he said.

As for any potential competitive shortcomings to training on steel rather than fresh snow, the Storrs Hill coaches aren’t concerned.

“When I was a kid, we never really had to worry about not having enough snow, but that’s just the way it is now,” McKeon said. “I’ve talked to a lot people in the ski jumping community from places in the Midwest — Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois — who use steel tracks and have gotten a lot of good advice. We’ll probably use a (misting tool) to create a sort of ice varnish on the tracks to help with traction. The benefits are going to far outweigh any disadvantages.”

Storrs Hill, which also offers alpine, telemark and light backcountry skiing programs, has seen a steady membership increase in recent years, according to Grant. The twice-weekly ski jumping lessons for 7- to 18-year-olds had about 12 regulars last year, up from previous recent seasons.

“We only had three or four a few years ago,” Grant said.

Added LOC board member Cheryl Tourville, whose two sons, 8-year-old Matthew and 6-year-old Tim, both ski jump: “More kids who come here for downhill skiing have been saying, ‘What’s that?’ pointing to the jumps and wanting to give it a try. We expect to see even more of that now that they’ll have a consistent surface.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.