Volunteers shovel snow from the Harris Hill ski jump in preparation for the annual ski jump competition this weekend.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Volunteers shovel snow from the Harris Hill ski jump in preparation for the annual ski jump competition this weekend. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO -- Neither sleet, nor snow, nor lack thereof keep the volunteers of the Harris Hill Ski Jump from eagerly showing up year after year to make this world renowned jumping competition happen. Without the work of the 100-plus volunteers there wouldn't be Olympic-bound skiers gracefully flying at 60 mph off of the 90-meter jump to the ooohs and aaahhs of upwards of 3,000 spectators below. The Harris Hill Ski Jump, the only Olympic-sized jump in New England, is host to the FIS (International Ski Federation) Cup Tournament in February and will feature more than 40 of the world's top jumpers at this year's competition.

Catharine Hamilton, one of the 20 members of the Harris Hill Ski Jump Committee, has served as volunteer coordinator for the last four years and can attest to the dedication of all the community members she calls upon each year. They always arrive at the site with a positive attitude and ready to face any challenge Mother Nature has to throw at them.

"We have some of the best volunteers available in this community," Hamilton said

The Harris Hill Committee -- also all volunteer -- starts planning in September, but Hamilton begins her process in mid-January by sending a blanket e-mail to her pool of volunteers. By the time the event is set to take place in February, Hamilton has lined up parking attendants, ticket sellers, markers to measure jump lengths, judges, and people to help with registration, string banners, place hay bales and help with the snowmaking, and runners to help everybody. It takes up to 64 volunteers for two shifts each day of the event. This year she is most appreciative of the Brattleboro Fire Department and the Brattleboro Police Department, which are also lending a hand by taking on some of the less desirable chores such as guarding gates where you can't see the competition in order to prevent people from sneaking in without a ticket.

This year Hamilton is also especially thankful to volunteer Katherine Einig who has relieved a lot of the pressure on her by organizing the team effort between the ticket takers and parking attendants. Einig said it is easy to recruit volunteers for the event because so many people rally behind it. She is amazed, though, at just how much work it takes to make all this happen.

Even with all this planning, Hamilton is still very busy on the weekend of the jump positioning her volunteers, passing out the vests that identify them as staff, filling in where needed, and generally solving problems. But, she said, it is such a fun event to be part of; her favorite part is watching everyone enjoying his or herself there.

However, before all the jumpers arrive, before all the volunteers are assigned their designated posts and before all the spectators start pouring in through the front gate, money needs to be raised. That is where volunteers Liz Richards, Pat Howell, Melissa Gullotti and Betsy Farley come in.

Richards begins in the fall by contacting past sponsors and soliciting their support again for the money needed to cover expenses, the biggest chunk of which is the airfare and motel expenses for the skiers and the cost of diesel fuel to make the snow. Plus there are the expenses for advertising and ticket and poster printing that is all made possible by the sponsors.

For the 2014 ski jump the presenting sponsor is again Pepsi, and lead sponsors are Entergy Vermont Yankee, The Richards Group, Mount Snow and Foard Panel, along with a lengthy list of community sponsors: Brattleboro Savings & Loan, HP Cummings Construction Company, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Grafton Village Cheese, C&S Wholesale Grocers, U.S. Air Force, Mascoma Savings Bank, First Choice Communication Services, Green Mountain Power, Quality Inn, Super 8 Motel, Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Staples, Anson Baldwin Tree Care, Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Brattleboro Subaru, Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, Brattleboro Retreat, Cota & Cota, Eastern Ski & Nordic Combined, GPI Construction, Inc., Green Mountain Gringo, GS Precision, Holstein Association USA, Inc., New Chapter, People's United Bank, SERVPRO, Swiss Precision Turnings, Trust Company of Vermont, Wells Fargo Advisors, Green Mountain Creamery Yo Yummy, Allard Lumber, Cersosimo Industries, Barrows Fisher Oil, Brattleboro Ford, Integrated Solar, River Valley Credit Union, ROV Technologies, Sandri Oil Company, Sterling Quality Cleaners, The Whetstone Church and Caveman Bars.

Another resource helping to offset the cost of the tournament are the Friends of Harris Hill, loyal supporters who donate $100 every year. Visit www.harrishillskijump.com to find out how to become a Friend of Harris Hill.

One of the greatest challenges for the volunteers is that the weather doesn't always provide ideal conditions for the jump. In years past the jump has had to be canceled several times due to lack of snow, or in some years truckloads of snow had to be transported to the site, that is if any was even available. But as the event began to draw larger crowds and sponsors were backing it with more money, it became imperative to make snow and organizers have been doing so since the '80s. Recently this has been made possible with the help of volunteer and committee member Jason Evans, who keeps a sharp eye on the weather for temperature and snowfall the week before to prepare a nice coat of man-made snow, valued for its durability, on top of existing natural snow -- if any -- to be ready for the weekend of the event. To combat the mud when the temperatures are warm and to keep the ice down and feet warm when the temperatures are cold, volunteers spread wood chips around the spectator viewing area.

Dana Sprague, the committee's Harris Hill historian, is a self-confessed junkie of Harris Hill photos and memorabilia, and has been officially keeping records for the last 10 years, minus the time during the ski jump's reconstruction from 2006-2008. Sprague is responsible for documenting the jumping distances. Today the distances are measured electronically for the FIS, but Sprague still utilizes volunteers to act as markers who are positioned every 10 feet along the hill serving as a back up to the cameras. Sprague also photographs action shots of the skiers as they jump and a head shot for their records, all greatly appreciated by the jumpers.

Sprague said it is so much fun revisiting with old friends and former jumpers and their families, creating a reunion-like atmosphere that he looks forward to every year.

Also on site recording the day's events are BCTV volunteers Joe Bushey, who mans the camera, and Daryl Pillsbury who interviews jumpers and bystanders. BCTV films the jumps and the crowd, capturing the mood and the excitement as it happens. The biggest challenge for Pillsbury is the wind and the cold, but with that put aside, he said the experience is what he could only describe as intimate and is a beautiful thing for Brattleboro. All the volunteers agree that the entire experience is a fun occasion for them that gets them interactive with the public. It is a feel-good kind of event with a festive atmosphere that is complete with tailgating and of course the ever-popular beer tent.

A special thank you is in order to all the enthusiastic volunteers including previously unmentioned committee members Rex Bell, Kate McGinn, Todd Einig, Sandy Harris, Steve Jones, Andrew MacFarland, Paul Nasuta, Karen Zelenakas, and Kelsey Harris, and to all the hard-working and loyal community volunteers that make the ski jump possible each year.

Cicely M. Eastman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261 or ceastman@reformer.com.