Ski jump ready to fly

The Nansen Ski Jump in Milan, eight decades old, received a new wooden deck in 2017 in preparation for a Red Bull jumping exhibition.

The Nansen Ski Jump rises like a beacon of the past near the town line between Berlin and Milan, its 172-foot steel tower reaching high above Route 16 and the Androscoggin River.

For decades, from the 1930s into the 1980s, spectators flocked to competitions here, gathering around the landing hill or watching the action from their parked cars below, where they’d listen to the commentary on the radio and honk car horns after a particularly good jump.

Renewed interest in the jump has been sparked by a series of events over the past few years that members of the longstanding Nansen Ski Club hope will lead to a ski jumping competition next year. It would be the first jumping competition at the Big Nansen since 1985.

“The club has fully embraced this ski jump adventure that we’re on,” said Scott Halvorson, treasurer of the Nansen Ski Club and a member of the Friends of Big Nansen, a committee of the club. “We’re planning to have an event in February of 2020.”

That event would be a competition of the top junior ski jumpers in the country and would be held in collaboration with other jumping competitions in Salisbury, Conn., Brattleboro, Vt., and Lake Placid, N.Y. It would become part of the U.S. Cup, a series of about a dozen jumping competitions held throughout the country each year.

Nansen Ski Jump from the top

Team USA ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson acclimates herself to the Nansen Ski Jump in preparation for the exhibition in 2017.

Halvorson, whose grandfather Alf Halvorson was instrumental in building the Big Nansen in 1937, said the club has enlisted the help of a professional fundraiser to garner the $270,000 to $315,000 it anticipates rehabilitating the jump will cost and hopes to begin construction this summer. Necessary work includes safety measures like adding a false deck to the jump to bring its jumping profile into compliance with current standards, building and installing new starting boxes, and adding deflection boards to the in-run track.

The ski club is also working to secure a Special Use Permit for the competition from the state’s Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources. The jump site is currently owned by the state and overseen by the Bureau of Historic Sites.

About five years ago, the bureau began a cleanup effort of the site, investing about $125,000 to haul out trash that had been dumped over several years, clear trees from what had been the landing hill, and create an area for people to stop and learn about the jump.

“It was as if we had uncovered the Statue of Liberty after not being seen for 20 years,” said Ben Wilson, director of the Bureau of Historic Sites. “Everybody just kept calling and saying, ‘What’s going on up there? Is it going to be turned back into a competition jump?’”

Several local residents formed the Friends of the Big Nansen group and began looking into the potential to restore the jump. Meanwhile, Red Bull caught wind of the effort and put up $75,000 to help rehabilitate the Big Nansen so Red Bull-sponsored athlete and world class ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson could make a jump from the Nansen as part of a documentary.

Hendrickson made her jump March 4, 2017, amid much fanfare. It seemed, however, that would be the last hurrah – a one and done after a valiant restoration effort.

Taking flight off the Nansen

Team USA ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson soars off the Nansen Ski Jump in March 2017. It was the first time the landmark jump had been used in more than 30 years.

But Hendrickson’s jump only increased interest in reviving the Big Nansen. Members of the ski club have reached out to other jumping clubs and are collaborating with USA Nordic, which funds and hires coaches for the U.S. national ski jumping team, in the ongoing effort to revive the jump.

Jed Hinkley of USA Nordic has visited Berlin several times to meet with Nansen Ski Club representatives and offer guidance. He said the interest in the Berlin jump is part of an ongoing revival in ski jumping in the East and across the country.

“My sense is that ski jump was a huge part of that town’s identity,” said Hinkley. “I think the whole town is going to rally around it.”

Meanwhile, Wilson said the state is pursuing official historic status for the jump, including seeking placement on the National Register of Historic Places as well as Historic Landmark Status.

“This is taking it to the next level and making it a living historic site,” he said, noting the state will install staircases up the landing hill so visitors may get to the jump, as well as interpretive panels about the jump’s history.

Halvorson said hopes for the Big Nansen reach beyond the 2020 competition toward a revitalization of youth ski jumping in the region. (New Hampshire is the only state to have sanctioned high school ski jumping competitions.)

“The big jump is the primary goal right now, but the whole purpose of that is to get the youth jumping going,” he said, noting plans to eventually restore a smaller jumping hill adjacent to the Big Nansen.

Those interested in learning more about the effort, or in making a contribution toward restoring the jump, may visit the club’s website (www.skinansen.com) or contact Halvorson at scott.halvorson@skinansen.com.