Road to Olympics goes down Harris Hill


BRATTLEBORO -- Nicholas Alexander, Peter Frenette, Anders Johnson and Nicholas Fairall have a few things in common.

Each is a member of the U.S. Olympic Ski Jump team, and each hopes to return from Sochi, Russia with a medal. Each has been training for years and has won numerous events around the world to qualify for the Olympic team. And each, at some point in the past few years, has visited Brattleboro to jump at the Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition.

"Brattleboro is on the national and international calendar and every member of the Olympic ski team has been there over the last few years," said Rex Bell, chief of competition for Harris Hill. "Brattleboro is one of the most important events for team jumping and some people don't understand the prestige of this event for U.S. jumpers."

The 2014 Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition is scheduled for this weekend, Feb. 15 and 16, at the Harris Hill Ski Jump on Cedar Street in Brattleboro.

Gates open at 10 a.m. each day and tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for youth 6 to 12.

Children 5 years and younger are free.

The first ski jump was held at Harris Hill in 1922, but after a three year, $575,000 renovation, Harris Hill was elevated to International Ski Federation, or FSI, competition status.

And U.S. ski jumpers have been fighting their way on to the Olympic team by competing at Harris Hill ever since.

Harris Hill is the only FIS Cup Tournament in the United States, and prior to the hill's renovation, which was completed in 2008 and hosted its first jump the following year, athletes had to travel to Europe to earn the international points needed to make it on to the Olympic team.

The road to the Olympics used to be much more challenging for American jumpers, Bell said, requiring expensive airplane travel as well as getting accustomed to different food, languages, and schedules.

"The Harris Hill jump is very significant for our athletes," Bell said. "It can be overwhelming to have to travel so far to compete. Having a jump like this closer to home gives the athlete an advantage, especially when they are first getting into competing at such a high level."

Bell used to live in Brattleboro and he helped with the project to renovate Harris Hill back in 2005 when it first became clear that an upgrade was needed.

The aging structure needed help just to survive, but Bell says he, and other supporters at the time, saw a need for an international ski jump in this country, and pushed to upgrade the hill so it could be used for international competition.

Now fans don't have to travel every four years to see the best ski jumpers in the world.

And if you can't make it to the PyeongChang, Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics, there is a good chance you will be getting your first glimpse this weekend of the next U.S. athlete with his or her eyes on the gold.

"The four best jumpers on the men's team are in Russia right now, and the next best 20 will be in Brattleboro this weekend," Bell said. "I can guarantee that we are going to be seeing members of the next Olympic team at Harris Hill this weekend."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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