BRATTLEBORO — The National Television Crew arrived at the Harris Hill Ski Jump this Presidents Day weekend with plans to capture all the pageantry and pyrotechnics of a high-flying centennial celebration for the only Vermont’s Olympic-size venue.
Instead, he witnessed something more dizzying.
As historians say, the landmark arose 100 years ago when local sports pioneer Fred Harris observed a hill laden with evergreens and led workers to clear trees, crush rocks and tinker a launching pad for an inaugural 1922 competition that drew a crowd of 2,500.
Miraculously, design to completion only took a month. But that was an eternity compared to the one night Harris’ successors had to contend with in preparation for the 30-story jump last weekend.
Groomers had smoothed the frozen slope Wednesday, only to see a freak 60-degree thaw and pouring, melting rain washing away much of it Thursday. This forced organizers to cancel fireworks scheduled for Friday and call in snow cannons in a last-minute attempt to save the rest of the centenary.
Friday night travelers leaving Interstate 91 for southern Vermont resorts like Stratton passed the surreal sight of a lit hill as bright as Times Square teeming with crew members, athletes and coaches raking, shoveling and trampling the slope.
“Like the good old days,” said Todd Einig, who first skipped Harris Hill in 1986 before becoming its current competition manager. “That’s what it’s all about. When the challenges come, everyone comes together.
Spencer Knickerbocker, the first athlete to test the jump after its $600,000 renovation in 2009, used his skis to pack down artificial snow and his own feeling of discouragement.
“An hour later, I started to feel like we could do this,” the 29-year-old Marlboro resident said. “It’s a lot better than we thought.”
By the time the sun rose on Saturday, the hill was down. That’s when, moments after a crowd of thousands cheered on a practice run, snowflakes started falling from the sky. Hard.
Vermont announcer Peter Graves, who chose the centennial over working at the Olympics as he has done since 1980, said organizers would wait half an hour to see if the flurry passed. When it’s not, Graves asked everyone to hold on, as the ground had changed from a mud pit to a skating rink.
The show jumping finally began two hours after its scheduled start, bringing together more than 40 athletes from as far west as Alaska and as far east as Iceland, Norway and Slovenia.
“I always want to come back,” said Chris Lamb, a 32-year-old Marlboro College graduate who came from Oregon.
The crowd, for their part, came to see one of the few natural springboards where, in a world of scaffolding and security, one can meet athletes up close. Take 10-year-old Charley Grandinetti from Massachusetts, who approached Knickerbocker — touted by the PA system as a “hometown hero” — in 2019.
“I said we were fans,” the boy recalled.
The jumper, who had just won a medal, gave it to Grandinetti, who wore it on his return last weekend.
Sunday’s final round of competition featured some 60 former athletes as senior as Addison Minott, 91, of Guilford, and as famous as fellow Vermonter Bill Koch, 66, the first American to win an Olympic medal Nordic.
The event also showcased the six Winged Ski trophies awarded to the three winners, ranging from the first cup Harris commissioned from famed jeweler Cartier to the latest his daughter, Sandy, recently crafted from glass, wood and marble. local.
With his win this weekend, 20-year-old Ole Kristian Baarset from the 1994 Olympic home of Lillehammer, Norway, joined the century-old list of champions.
“This is my first time to America,” Baarset said. “This jump reminds me of some of our favorite hills back home. I really like.”
The event itself echoed 1938, when snowless organizers hauled out tons of trucks days before hosting the national championship, only to find the competition hit by surprise gusts.
“It was a day of triumph for every individual who played a part in producing snow from almost nowhere,” a local newspaper reported at the time.
Fast forward to the present, Brattleboro resident Hugh Barber, the only Vermont athlete to retire the Winged Ski Trophy, watched in amazement at the apparent 1938 replay.
“Wednesday was 8 degrees, Thursday was 60,” Barber said. “This weekend, we’ve seen a bit of everything.”
Jason Evans, a local slope preparation contractor, stood there with a smile.
The less talkative and more active Vermonter said, “Just another day.”