Harris Hill: Volunteers' devotion, loyalty shine through on jump day


BRATTLEBORO -- The crowds came to watch the ski jumpers this weekend at the Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition, but it was the volunteers and committee members who could have taken their place on the podium with the athletes.

A nor'easter dumped almost two feet of snow on Brattleboro Thursday and Friday and the volunteers had to work all day Friday to get the jump, parking lot and vendor area in shape for the weekend.

Committee members and dozens of volunteers worked until sundown Friday, and before the first car pulled up early Saturday the 92nd Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition was set to take off for one more year.

Organizers put out a call for volunteers and about 20 people with shovels in hand showed up Friday to help clear the steps and run.

A few other plow truck operators offered their services to clear the parking lot.

"People were shoveling steps, breaking branches and making pathways," said Harris Hill co-director Betsy Farley. "It was very helpful to have the extra hands here."

Farley said trial runs could not be held Friday because the jump was not ready, and it was a little more challenging to get the vendor area plowed out and set up in one day.

The plane with 11 European jumpers landed in Boston late Thursday night and Harris Hill organizers left early Friday after the snow had stopped to go get them and bring them to Brattleboro

The athletes showed up early Saturday to do their trial jumps, which are required under International Ski Federation rules, and before the gates opened at 10 a.m. Farley said everything was ready to go.

"This committee has put in countless hours working on this hill," Farley said. "It's not a 9 to 5 job; it's probably a 5 to 8 job. It was a little more challenging with the storm, but now we are having great weather and the kids are having a blast. The jumpers are loving the jump. The take off seems to be good. We're in great shape."

Jason Evans is on the Harris Hill Organizing Committee and oversees the physical plant, which includes the jump, parking lot and vendor area.

Evans said the call was made early Friday that no jumps could be held because the track was not cut.

Prior to Thursday the crew had the tracks cut and the hill ready until Winter Storm Pax dumped all of the snow on southeastern Vermont.

"We had everything ready," said Evans. "Everything was ready to jump so getting the added snow meant we had to get rid of it. It just put the process behind."

Evans and his crew worked from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Friday.

As the temperature warmed up Friday The Brattleboro Fire Department was called in to spray down the jump and Evans said about 750 gallons of water was used to freeze the jump and take-off.

Then they were all back at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday to get ready for the first jumps of the day.

"Everything's perfect now," Evans said as the first jumpers climbed the hill for the start of competition. " It's just another jump with different things to do. A little snow is easier than dealing with a parking lot with mud."

Almost 2,000 spectators showed up Saturday.

Lisa Stryker from Windham, N.H. was in Brattleboro for a Valentine's Day dinner Friday and found out about the jumping competition when she was looking for places to go out for a hike Saturday.

She had never been to Harris Hill and after an early morning snow shoe she headed out to the hill and had a prime spot for watching the athletes take off.

"We knew nothing at all about this. It's a once in a life time opportunity," Stryker said. "The Olympics are on so it's heightened excitement. The women are jumping in the Olympics this year and I want to be part of the action."

Bill Stelzenmuller lives in Philadelphia and has a house in the area.

It was also his first time at the competition.

He spent the morning at Living Memorial Park and said the winter storm was the perfect setting for spending a weekend in Brattleboro and for watching the competition.

"This is great weather for this," he said. "You have the carnival going on. We did a little skiing this morning. It's nice to see the community get behind events like this and support it."

Sandy Harris' father, Fred Harris, built the jump in 1922, and Sandy spent a lot of time as a child there, helping mow the fields in summer, preparing the hill in winter and then watching athletes take off on the day of competition.

Sandy Harris has been at the jump every year since 1999 and she was there Saturday.

Just a few weeks ago she was given a letter her dad wrote in 1924 to his friend Dr. Phil Dunham, "The Flying Dentist."

Dunham died last year and the letter was found among Dunham's archives.

In the letter Fred Harris talked about all of the work that goes into making the event happen, and Sandy said that as the winter storm headed inland this week and prepared to dump all of that snow on the area, her father's words assured her that the jump would not be delayed this year.

"In the letter he talked about the loyalty and devotion of the volunteers in this community that make this happen," she said. "Ninety years later this is happening because of that love and devotion. He would have been flabbergasted over what it takes to do this. I think every year a spell falls over this hill and there is a magic that happens to make this work. I got that letter a week ago. It was written 90 years ago and it could have been written yesterday with what he was saying about this community and about the volunteerism and devotion and loyalty. Somehow it always works out the way it is supposed to, and it always does."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-311, ext. 279 or at hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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