Harris Hill organizers, volunteers handle snowfall with aplomb
BRATTLEBORO -- For the past 80 years organizers of the Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition have had to come up with a variety of ingenious ways to get snow on the jump during warm, dry years.
In 1954 volunteers collected snow off the streets of Brattleboro to dump on the hill. In 1976 the Brattleboro Outing Club helped pile up 150 truck loads of snow and in 1985 snow from the parking lot was carried up to the landing to ensure that the tournament was held.
This year no one is worried about a lack of snow.
On Thursday, as a Nor'easter barreled across New England and threatened to dump more than a foot of snow on Brattleboro, volunteers for the Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition had a whole range of different challenges to take on with the opening of the jump less than 48 hours away.
"Ironically at this point we don't need any more snow," said Rex Bell, chief of competition for Harris Hill. "Before this, the hill was in great shape so we're just going to have to deal with it and get it ready once the snow stops tomorrow. I really don't see it being canceled. If the snow stops Friday we should have plenty of time, even if we get a couple of feet."
Organizers said Thursday afternoon that they were 99 percent sure that the gates would open Saturday at 10 a.m. as scheduled.
"Everything is fine. This will end tomorrow and we'll have plenty of time to get everything in shape," said Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition Co-Director Betsy Farley. "It's beautiful, light snow. It's better than dealing with mud."
Farley credits all of the volunteers for working over the past few weeks to get the site in shape.
The jump was just about ready prior to the snowfall Thursday, and as soon as it stops snowing Friday she said volunteers will be right back at it.
"Everybody steps up when there are issues. Everything is still on," she said. "We're not worried. It's going to make it all more fun for the kids."
But there was still a long list of tasks to tackle before Saturday, thanks to Winter Storm Pax
Bell is in charge of making sure the jump is ready for the athletes. He was on site Thursday and said he and a group of volunteers would probably be removing the snow throughout the day and into the night. The jump is covered with plastic, but Bell said the biggest challenge will be getting the end run and landing in shape. Ideally the end run is covered in hard ice and the landing has no soft snow, so Bell said as soon as the snow stops his crew will have to work to prepare the surfaces for the first test jumps of the day.
"This is definitely going to delay us getting the hill ready to ski," Bell said. "Hopefully tomorrow we will be ready to train at 1 p.m. as scheduled."
Mount Snow, which typically helps organizers make snow, this year left Bell's crew a Snow Cat to move and groom the more than 12 inches that are supposed to fall before the storm moves out some time Friday.
With modern snow making Bell said a lack of snow is actually less of a challenge than too much.
"Every year our biggest concern is exactly what we're facing now," Bell said. "It just means we have a lot of extra work, but we'll be fine."
Mother Nature can always present obstacles to a smooth event. In 1977 the condition of the jump was so poor due to weather that the longest jump was less than 200 feet for the first time since 1935 The parking lot was closed in 1984 because of mud and the jump was canceled in 1980, 1981 and 1998, due to warm weather and a shortage of natural snow.
Jason Evans has been in charge of the physical grounds for the Harris Hill Organizing Committee since 2005 and in the days leading up to the jump he is usually dealing with mud in the parking lot, snow making and organizing the vendor tents. On Thursday he was coordinating with other committee members on how to deal with the snow. Evans was confident that the committee would have everything ready before Saturday morning.
Just about every snow plow driver in Windham County will be busy Friday but Evans said he has commitments from area drivers who are ready to come and help out.
"It's nothing we can complain about. We just have to deal with it," Evans said. "Right now we're just trying to keep on top of it so there is less to deal with when it stops. It's no big deal."
There is a whole list of other responsibilities that became much more difficult when the track of Winter Storm Pax turned inland and centered over southeastern Vermont.
Thursday is typically the day tents are set up on site and all of the work will have to take place Friday, as soon as the area is cleared of snow. The delay will make it tougher to get the beer and food vendors in place before Saturday morning.
Because Harris Hill is sanctioned by the International Ski Federation, or FIS, the athletes must get in at least two test jumps before Saturday, and that usually happens Thursday and Friday.
With all of the snow coming down the crew can not cut the tracks in jump until it stops, further delaying the first trial jumps.
And while most of the athletes had already arrived in Vermont as of Thursday, organizers were keeping a close watch on a plane from Europe carrying jumpers from Slovenia and Norway that was supposed to land in Boston Thursday. FIS requires a jump to have athletes from at least five countries to officially sanction the event, and the top jumpers will not collect the points they are expecting if the European athletes do not make it to Brattleboro in time.
"It's going to be a lot more work and we're going to have to redo all of the work that has been done over the past few days," said Dana Sprague, a member of the organizing committee. "But people will chip in and make it happen. From now until Saturday it is going to be all hands on deck."
Sprague said he remembers a huge storm that hit the area on the Friday before the jump about 20 years ago.
The Saturday jump was canceled that year, but athletes were able to launch off the jump Sunday and Sprague said the energy and enthusiasm during the one day event that year was heightened.
Sprague is the volunteer coordinator and he is working with about 70 people during the weekend. If the snow delays any of Saturday's events Sprague said he will be making a lot of phone calls Friday. Still Sprague said this is February in Vermont, and once all of the snow is cleared and the work is done it should make for a picture post card weekend.
"This snow is going to get everyone in the mood for a super weekend," he said. "It should be a beautiful jump by Saturday morning."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-311, ext. 279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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