Nansen Ski Jump gets historical marker

Union Leader Correspondent
November 07. 2011 12:32PM

Photo courtesy of Brown Company Collection, Michael J. Spinelli Jr. Center for University Archives and Special collections, Lamson Library of Plymouth State University. 
If you've ever driven up past Berlin on Route 16 and turned you eyes away from the scenic Androscoggin River, you might have noticed a tall structure atop a hill on the west side of the highway.

It's the Nansen Ski Jump, built in 1936, and now there's a state historic marker at its base by the roadside. Once the site of local, state and national ski jumping contests, the jump has fallen into disrepair and has not been used in decades. It is owned by the state, a part of the land that includes the Nansen Wayside Park across the road along the river.

A small group of state and local officials came together Friday to bring attention to the new marker. State Sen. John Gallus of Berlin said that he and District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton were there to honor the contribution of the Scandinavian immigrants to the region. Gallus said Nansen Ski Club officers sponsored the marker. 'These plaques are for special places, special people and special events,' said Burton. 'It's a great addition.'

Construction of the jump was sponsored by the Nansen Ski Club, and the work was carried out by the National Youth Administration and the City of Berlin.

Clarence 'Spike' Oleson was the first jumper, taking flight off the 171-foot steel tower in 1937. The following year the U.S. Olympic trials were held at the jump.

The Nansen Ski Jump was the site for the U.S. Ski Jumping National Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965, and 1972. According to the Berlin and Coos County Historical Society, the structure was the highest steel tower ski jump east of the Mississippi when it was completed. It has a 225-foot vertical drop, with a descent angle of 37.5 degrees. The ski jump was last used - officially - in the 1980s, but the Nansen Ski Club is still very active, maintaining Nordic ski trails at Milan Hill State Park.

The club has the distinction of being the oldest continually operated ski club in the country, having formed as the Skilubben Club in 1872. In the club's early years membership was restricted to male Scandinavians who were residents of Coos County. Meetings were conducted in Norwegian. The name was changed in honor of Fridjof Nansen of Norway, who in 1888 crossed Greenland on skis.

There are two historical markers in Berlin, one by the riverside that briefly tells the story of the boom piers that still dot the middle of the river. The other marker is on the eastern side of the city, and marks the first residence in Maynesborough, the name by which Berlin was formerly known.

'Historical highway markers form a trail of the state's heritage, from Pittsburg to Hinsdale and Seabrook,' Elizabeth Muzzey, director of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources and state historic preservation officer, said in September.

The marker program is managed by the state Department of Transportation and the Division of Historical Resources.

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