Still jumping at 90

Monday February 20, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- The sun was shinning, a light breeze ebbed and flowed and thousands rang their cowbells and cheered on their favorite jumper as the skiers flew through the air during the 90th Harris Hill Ski Jump.

For 86-year-old Bill Chester, of Tunbridge, the competition brought cold, but fond memories of when he was a boy and would go see ski jumpers with his family in Wisconsin.

"It looks easy from down here at the bottom," Chester said of the Harris Hill Ski Jump. "From the top however it's pretty scary."

Although conditions might not have been ideal for the jumpers, no records were broken, but with temperatures in the high 30s, low 40s, it made for a nearly perfect day for the 4,200 spectators that visited Harris Hill on Saturday and Sunday.

On the second day of the competition, Anders Johnson, of the Park City Nordic Ski Club, got first place with a jump of 94.5 meters and 93.5 meters while Brattleboro native Spencer Knickerbocker won the Pepsi Challenge's Open class with jumps of 88.5 meters and 80.0 meters.

Alan Johnson, technical delegate for the competition and the athletic director of the U.S.A. Ski Jumping Team, said the conditions on the hill were better than expected with the unseasonable warmer temperatures.

With his pen in one hand and the clipboard in the other, Johnson watched on intently, calling out "77 and a half" trying to guess each jumper's distance before they took off.

At the top of the ramp a young skier waits eagerly for their turn and Johnson says to hold off for a few because the wind isn't the same.

"We try to keep the conditions as close to the same as possible for everyone so that the competition is fair," he said as he looked which way the flags were moving.

Johnson said the difference of just a one or two mph of wind and its direction can give a skier 10 more meters.

"It's all about head-wind, just like an airplane," he said.

When the wind is moving up the slope right at the skier it can keep them suspended in the air longer, allowing them to make much longer jumps, Johnson said.

If a ski jumper gets just the right conditions, they say it's like floating on a glass coffee table and everything moves in slow-motion.

Most people had their camera's ready as each competitor propelled themselves off the ramp with an audible "whoosh" quickly followed by hundreds of clicks.

Atop the only 90-meter ski jump in New England, vertigo comes easy to many people, but that didn't stop spectators like 11-year-old Tyler Allembert and his brother, 6-year-old Jordan, from huddling shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of others along the jump's boundary.

Tyler, of Dummerston, said he can imagine what it's like to fly down the hill but that it's not going to happen anytime soon.

"I just like watching how far they go," he said. "I don't think I could ever do what they do though."

"When they jump off it's awesome," Jordan said.

The large crowds meant good business for the vendors which included volunteers raising money for the Oak Grove School and others selling baked goods for the Morningside Shelter.

Oak Grove School winter sports coordinator, Christine Hazzard, said they made enough money to give students the chance to enjoy the outdoors.

"Kids get to go ski and snowboard at Mount Snow, go cross-country skiing and snow shoeing at the Brattleboro Outdoor Club and ice skating now," Hazzard said. "This is such a great event for us."

For Diana and Stephen Paproski, of Newtown Conn., their first trip to Harris Hill was practically spontaneous.

"We were up skiing at Killington last weekend and just happened to see an advertisement," Diana said. "I'm so glad we decided to come up for this. I couldn't believe how brave they are."

At the bottom of the hill, first time visitors Lora Dulmaine and Bill Ortlieb, both of Dummerston, got a "front row" seat to each skier's landing.

"We're definitely coming back next year," Dulmaine said. "This is an amazing event," Ortlieb added.

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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