Harris Hill Ski Jump: An annual event that depends on community volunteers

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BRATTLEBORO — It may be easy to attend an event and not think about what goes into it, but without volunteers, the Harris Hill Ski Jump would not continue from year to year.

There are close to 200 volunteers each year, according to Dana Sprague, who is the historian of the event and is in charge of about 60 volunteers for the hill management and measuring. The Harris Hill Ski Jumping Tournament will be held Feb. 20 and 21 this year, but Sprague says they lock in their volunteers the first week of January.

"Without the volunteers this wouldn't happen," said Sprague.

Harris Hill Ski Jump, Inc. is a 501C-3 non-profit organization and the jump itself was built in 1922 for a cost of $2,000. Between 2005 and 2008, the hill was completely re-built to comply with FIS (International Ski Federation) standards to qualify Harris Hill to host internationally sanctioned events. In 2012 the organization hosted the first-ever FIS Cup Tournament in the United States.

More than nine decades after it was first built the event continues, with jumpers from all over the United States and the world leaping off the 90-meter ski jump at about 60 mph. Below the soaring skiers, volunteers will stand alongside the hill to measure the distances travelled.

"It's the coldest place to stand during the event," said Sprague. "But it's also the best place to watch the jumpers compete."

Sprague says he likes to have 30 volunteers for each day and someone stationed at every two meters of the jump because when jumpers are soaring at about 60 mph, "You can't leave a big gap between the volunteers."

Sprague sets up hill markers from the 55 meter mark down to 100 meter mark; normally the shortest jump is between 55 to 60 meters and the longest jump around 100 meters.

Over the years, Sprague has seen returning volunteers that he can trust to do the job well. He mentioned John Clements, who has volunteered as a marker at the event for the past 18 years. Clements is also the owner of Zephyr Designs and allows the store window on Main Street in Brattleboro to be used as a display for the event.

"It's a lot of fun, it's quite enjoyable. It's not something that feels like I'm volunteering, because sometimes that can just seem like work, this is more like play," said Clements.

Clement's son competed at the ski jump at Vermont Academy until the school decided to tear it down. The next closest jump was in Lebanon and Clements felt that was "just too far away." So if his son could not compete, he decided he would still enjoy the sport as a spectator and volunteer at Harris Hill.

Sprague also mentioned Dave Lane of Dummerston who has volunteered in just about every position at the Harris Hill Ski Jump for close 20 years and is now a head marker.

"It's just an interest of mine being around the fellow jumpers. I'm very athletic and I volunteer for a lot of things as far as athletics goes," said Lane.

Lane jumped all throughout high school between 1961 and 1965 while he was a student at Brattleboro Union High School. At that time, he said, there were about 30 jumpers in town that were his age. When Lane got out of the service in '68, he jumped a few more years and then eventually began to volunteer his time at Harris Hill where then one of his daughters, Shelby DavisLane, began to jump alongside Spencer Knickerbocker who was in her age group.

Over the years some technicalities have changed regarding the ski jump marking at Harris Hill. This will be the first year in three years that it will be measured manually and not electronically. The last two years it has been an event where competitors can earn points to go toward the world cup standing, which required standardized marking and speeds.

"It's more expensive to do that, so we decided to be independent and not be part of the Federation of International Skiing (FIS) for this year. We're taking a break," said Sprague.

According to Sprague, the average age of volunteers has increased this year, and he hopes to get some "new blood." Sprague says sometimes he and other volunteer coordinators reach out to the Brattleboro Union High School students and people who are visiting the area through New England Center for Circus Arts.

There are other volunteers that help with parking, admission tickets, security and running scores from the judges to the media. Naomi Pollica has been in charge of a range of volunteers as a full-time position for about two years. Aside from the 200 volunteers that help over the weekend at the event, there are some individuals, including Pollica and Sprague, who give their time throughout the year, which is referred to as the Harris Hill Volunteer Committee.

"There's about 10 of us that meet year round," said Sprague. "We work on getting sponsorship, securing skiers, registering the skiers, arranging travel and housing for jumpers, make sure they have food when they get here, make sure the field is plowed, set up vendors who sell food and we set down sawdust if it gets muddy."

In addition to the volunteers that make the Harris Hill Ski Jump possible, the sponsors are a foundational element in keeping the event in tip-top shape. Big names such as Pepsi are sponsoring the event with a total of $10,000 and local organizations such as Mount Snow, Auto Mall and Richards Group are the three lead sponsors, which have each contributed $5,000. Brattleboro Savings and Loan is the mascot sponsor and then there is a long list of sponsors for jumpers, lodging, printing, banners, and the media.

In addition, there have been in-kind donations from individuals, and locals like Anson Baldwin who trim trees and collect wood to make a bonfire possible for the event. According to Sprague, Baldwin donates some of his services for free. Sprague also mentioned Jason Evans and Mount Snow personnel who groom the hill.

If there are high school students who still need community service hours in order to graduate or if any individuals would like to volunteer at the event for two to four hours, there are several people from the Harris Hill Volunteer Committee that can be contacted. For anyone that is interest in helping with hill marking (they need no prior experience) and is willing work a four hour shift, contact Sprague at 802-254-9590. For those interested in helping with parking, contact Jim Strysko at 802-380-2145. For other volunteer options contact Pollica at 603-465-1428.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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