Once-dilapidated Nansen Ski Jumps returning to competitive use

By BARBARA TETREAULT

The Berlin Sun

Published: 01-20-2022 9:41 PM

MILAN, N.H. — Competitive ski jumping will return to the Mount Washington Valley this weekend at the Nansen Ski Jumps after a 37-year lapse, and one can feel the excitement.

Jumpers from across New England will compete on the newly created 39-meter and 10-meter jumps on Sunday. Three days later, a high school meet will take place on the 39-meter jump at night under the lights.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Shawn Costello, head of the Friends of Big Nansen Ski Jump committee. “It will be fun.”

A former Berlin High jumper, Costello was manager for the last jumping competition on the historic 80-meter Big Nansen Ski Jump back in 1985. That jump is still being restored.

Eleven jumpers have signed up to compete in the Eastern-sanctioned jumping event, with competitors from Lake Placid and Plattsburgh, N.Y., the Andover (N.H.) Outing Club and the Brattleboro-Vt.-based Harris Hill Nordic Club.

Among those flying off the 39-meter hill will be 2019 Eastern champion Cooper Dodds of Lebanon. Dodds earned a place in Nansen history when he made a clandestine jump off Big Nansen the day after Olympian jumper Sarah Hendrickson made her well-publicized jump back in 2017.

The competition was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first Winter Carnival. In addition to the jumping, this year’s festival includes is a snow sculpture contest, the burning of the greens and the popular Art Sled Rally. There was free skiing at the Nansen Ski Club’s Nordic trail system on Milan Hill State Park and a lecture on the Nansen Ski Club, which holds the honor of being the oldest continuous ski club in the country.

Founded in 1872 by the region’s Norwegian immigrants, Costello noted that for the first 40 years of its existence, the club’s minutes were written in Norwegian. It was also initially only open to men.

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Like many who grew up in Berlin’s Norwegian Village, jumping was part of Costello’s heritage. His father, Leon Costello, was a top jumper and very involved with the Nansen Ski Club.

“I love jumping — it was a rite of passage,” Shawn Costello said.

He said the last jumping competition in 1985 was part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Winterfest and drew about five jumpers. Scott Halvorson, whose grandfather, Alf Halvorson, built the jump, said the number of high school teams had declined and the volunteer base had dwindled.

“Somehow, the torch wasn’t passed,” he said at the lecture.

The state agreed to take over ownership of the jump and kept the steel painted, but the site became overgrown and dilapidated. Only the tops of the towers showed. Costello said for five years he avoided the site because he couldn’t stand to see how the jump looked.

But a group of former jumpers and ski club members decided to clean up around the site, and the state had it logged. The Friends group was born and, in November 2015, Hendrickson visited Big Nansen and said she would to jump off it.

Her sponsor, Red Bull, agreed to cover the cost of replacing the railing and decking. After Hendrickson’s jump in March 2017, her coach, Alan Alborn, said the jump had shown it could be used with modern equipment and techniques and said he saw no reason it couldn’t be used in the future.

The Friends had hopes to have the Big Nansen restored to allow jumping this season. But the work turned out to be more involved and expensive than originally projected and is being done in phases.

Instead, the Friends switched its focus to creating two new jumps at the site and working with school officials to create programs to draw young people into the sport. The 39-meter hill was professionally designed using the most modern safety and aerodynamic standards, and club officials say it promises to provide a wonderful jumping experience. The 10-meter hill built with volunteer labor is designed for younger skiers as a bridge to the bigger hills.

New Hampshire is the only state that supports ski jumping at the high school level, and Kennett High School in Conway has an active program. Kennett coach Chip Henry has been instrumental in helping the Nansen group get the jump program established.

Getting snow on the site for Sunday’s jump has been an adventure for the Friends. Not willing to rely entirely on natural snow, the group set out to make snow using equipment supplied by Henry and 1,800 feet of fire hoses borrowed from various sources.

The hoses were laid out to pump water from the Androscoggin River and throw snow on the landing hills. The hoses initially froze and had pulled up and hauled to a garage to thaw. The line was then laid out again and ran for 24 hours straight, and with Monday’s natural snow, Costello said there will be enough snow for the competitions.

The jumping will get underway Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with competition on the 10-meter jump and in the afternoon will move to the 39-meter jump. Information about the jumping and the festival is available at www.skinansen.com.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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