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Leap of Faith: Dedicated Group Clears the Way for Ski Jump Meet

Hanover ski jumping coach Tom Dodds uses his homemade "trackulator" to straighten the grooves on the 32-meter ski jump at Oak Hill Ski Area in Hanover, N.H., on February 14, 2014. Dodds, assistant coach Walter Malmquist and volunteers spent three hours the previous day clearing six inches of snow from the jump, and then cleared another eight inches that morning in preparation for the NHIAA ski jumping championships to be held the next day. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Hanover ski jumping coach Tom Dodds uses his homemade "trackulator" to straighten the grooves on the 32-meter ski jump at Oak Hill Ski Area in Hanover, N.H., on February 14, 2014. Dodds, assistant coach Walter Malmquist and volunteers spent three hours the previous day clearing six inches of snow from the jump, and then cleared another eight inches that morning in preparation for the NHIAA ski jumping championships to be held the next day. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — When it comes to ski jumping, fresh snow doesn’t always mean better conditions. For coaches and volunteers of the Hanover High ski jumping team, it can mean a lot of extra work.

The approximately one foot of snow fall Thursday and Friday forced the postponement of the NHIAA state championships, originally scheduled for Friday night at Storrs Hill Recreation Area’s Roger Burt Memorial Ski Jumps. The event will instead be held today, beginning at 11 a.m., as the Marauders seek their second straight title.

Such a quick turnaround was possible only thanks to the maintenance efforts of Hanover coach Tom Dodds, assistant coach Walter Malmquist and a host of volunteers, who spent parts of Thursday night and many hours Friday manually grooming the jumps and landing areas.

With no motorized groomer at their disposal, Hanover’s supporters maintain their jumps the old fashioned way — with boots, skis and hand tools.

“That’s really what makes our hills unique, is not having a groomer,” said Dodds, whose team is hosting the state meet for the first time in his six seasons as coach. “We also had our pre-state meet (Feb. 5) canceled because of a snowstorm. It seems like we’re only getting storms when we have something scheduled.”

With top athletes soaring through the air for distances beyond 35 meters, creating a safe landing area can be a tricky paradigm. Ideally, the surface is firm enough to help competitors maintain balance, but forgiving enough to absorb the impact without significant kickback.

“Sometimes when it snows, we’re shoveling snow onto the landing hill (for increased padding),” Dodds said. “This time it was the opposite, because there was too much snow and it wasn’t going to be firm enough. So we had to shovel the whole 14 inches off of the in-run to get back to the icy crust. That’s what you’re looking for.”

An anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Dodds first visited Storrs Pond’s Oak Hill on Thursday to begin removing snow built up from the first wave of the storm. He was back at it Friday at 8 a.m., along with Malmquist — a former two-time Olympic Nordic combined skier and special ski jumper — and team members Nathan Roth, Erica Tischbein and Sam Hastings. Ford Sayre Ski Council director Heidi Nichols and several parent volunteers were also on hand.

“Once we saw how much snow there was going to be overnight, we got the word out that we were going to need some help. Luckily, we have a great support system,” Dodds said.

After shoveling the snow away from the jumps, the crew used their own stomping boots to pack and churn the snow, then went over the landing area with the edges of skis to create divots that help slow skiers after landing.

Once the steep in-run was shoveled, Dodds used a leaf blower to remove snow from the pre-existing ski tracks. Then it was time for what Hanover coaches call the “trackulator” — a handheld wooden tool with a metal edge — to help shape the tracks.

Malmquist, in his first year assisting Dodds, is a great admirer of the work Dodds puts into the jumps each time it snows. “I call him ‘St. Tom,’ he’s so committed,” Malmquist said.

For Dodds, it’s a labor of love.

“I really enjoy being out here,” he said. “When I was out here last night, it was really idyllic and peaceful. It does get exhausting, but it’s also really nice to be out here.”

Malmquist takes great pride in what the Hanover ski jumping community routinely performs in order to ensure home meets have great conditions.

“Even just after practices, the landing areas have to be raked, and there’s a lot of prep work that goes into these events,” he said. “Parents and volunteers are always willing to help out, and there are a lot of real friendships that come out of it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.