IN HIS more than 20 years as a ski jumping coach, Tom Dodds has seen interest in the sport cycle through ups and downs. Rosters are a little thin this winter, but the Hanover High coach knows a bump is coming.
“At the high school level, we’re wrestling with a decline in numbers, but at the middle school and club level there’s a definite resurgence, and it’s given us some excitement about the future of high school jumping,” Dodds said. “So we’re in a rebuilding mode, but we’re feeling pretty good about it.”
The recent start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing should give that rebuild a boost.
“It always seems like after an Olympic year, there’s a lot more excitement and a lot of people get into it,” said Chip Henry, who has been the ski jumping coach at Kennett High in Conway since 2002. “If we get kids watching ski jumping in the Olympics, than we’ll probably see some greater numbers next year, but it’s all in cycles, just like it is in any sport.”
New Hampshire is the only state in the country that offers ski jumping, but Dodds doesn’t usually talk about that until the end of the state championship meet.
“If you happen to be the team that wins, you always kind of remind the kids, ‘Well, you’re now national champions.’ That’s the only time I bring it up,” Dodds said.
That only-one-in-the-nation status is meaningful to high school jumpers like Hanover junior captain Cameron Forbush, but they don’t really want to keep it to themselves.
“I think everyone wants the sport to be more well known,” Forbush said. “I think raising awareness would bring more people into New Hampshire clubs and teams, but I guess the main goal would be to spread it to other states.”
That kind of collaborative spirit permeates the sport. It’s been especially evident at the historic Nansen Ski Jump in Milan, just north of Berlin, which has been updated and is reinvigorating ski jumping in the area. The community came together to raise funds to build a new, high school-sized jump (39 meters in this case) at the Nansen site, where a massive 79-meter jump was built in 1936. That old jump is still being refurbished, but the new jump has already hosted high school and club competitions with the help of established teams.
Dodds said the meet with Hanover, Kennett, Plymouth and Merrimack Valley on Jan. 26 drew “probably the biggest crowd we’ll see this year other than the state meet.” And next year a newly formed cooperative team from Berlin and Gorham High Schools (which already have co-op boys’ and girls’ hockey teams) will make Nansen its home hill.
“Our varsity club is going to order some extra equipment next year so we have plenty for everyone and can share with Berlin-Gorham,” Henry said. “We just want to get as many kids jumping as possible.”
Henry recently started a jumping program for children in elementary school in the Conway area with the hopes of developing jumpers long before they get to high school. And three years ago, he founded the Mount Washington Valley Ski Jumping Club, which gives middle school- and high school-age kids an opportunity to practice more, move up to bigger hills and, eventually, qualify for events like the junior nationals. Kennett’s Zach Grzesick, the 2019 New Hampshire state individual champ, took advantage of that chance by going to junior nationals in 2019 and 2020.
“For kids that want to get to bigger hills — and usually bigger equals more fun because they’re flying further and they’re all about big air and that sort of thing — the club gives them a pathway to go in that direction,” Henry said. “And now all of our high school teams have that opportunity, where 10 years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
That has been the case for a long time in Hanover, thanks to the Ford Sayre Ski Club. The club serves the entire Upper Valley region and it’s where Vermont’s Tara Garaghty-Moats, who won the first-ever Women’s Nordic Combined World Cup (jumping and cross country skiing) in 2020, got her jumping start. Hanover’s Forbush began jumping with Ford Sayre at age 7 and he’s been to four junior national events. Forbush is injured this year, but freshman Schuyler Clapp, another Ford Sayre jumper and junior national qualifier, has picked up the slack as Hanover’s top scorer.
The Upper Valley is also home to the Lebanon Outing Club and its two jumping hills (including a 50-meter), and a resurgence of middle school students at that club means Lebanon High should field a team next season for the first time in years. Hopkinton High, the 2007 NHIAA ski jumping champ, is also expected to field a team again next winter after years away, and that’s in part because Hopkinton kids can jump with the Andover Outing Club, which uses the hill at Proctor Academy in Andover.
The rise of interest at the club and middle school levels coinciding with the reopening of Nansen could push jumping into an all-time up cycle in New Hampshire. Not only does Nansen expand the sport in the northeast corner of the state, the facility itself is first class. The state-of-the-art jump was designed by Matt Gundry of CBS Squared in Wisconsin. Gundry is the father of a ski jumper and a civil engineer, and he created some game-changing software to produce jumps.
“That ski jump is an engineered work of art, it’s beautiful. A kid can go 15 meters and land safely and not hard, or they can go 45 meters and land safely and not hard,” Henry said. “I’ve been around ski jumping since I was 13, and I’m 46 now, and I’ve never seen anything like it, and the kids loved it. I didn’t hear a single negative word. And because of what we’ve seen at Nansen, we’re thinking about re-contouring our hill on the Kancamagus, and I believe they’re thinking about changes at Proctor, too.”
Clearly the ski jumping community supports everyone involved with advice, coaching, equipment and facilities being shared across schools, teams and clubs. But the Feb. 17 NHIAA ski jumping championships at Proctor will have a competitive edge, especially when it comes to the three teams with the strongest ski jumping traditions – Kennett (2021, 2018, 2017 champs), Hanover (2020, 2019 champs) and Plymouth (2016 champs).
“We want to beat Hanover, and Plymouth usually wants to beat us,” Henry said with a laugh. “There’s definitely a competitive team spirit at the meets, especially the state meet. The kids like competing as a team, which is pretty cool because it’s such an individual sport. So they want to win, but they’re all very good-natured about it, and they’re all having fun.”