Vt. ski jump bucks nature by making snow
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | February 11,2014
Kevin O’Connor / STAFF PHOTO
A newly restored ski jumping sign welcomes motorists to Brattleboro, which will host the annual Harris Hill competition this coming weekend.
BRATTLEBORO — Organizers of this coming weekend’s Harris Hill ski jump couldn’t do much last Wednesday as a winter storm buried everyone’s plans. But finally Thursday, they flipped the switch on the most important groundwork for the state’s only Olympic-size venue:
Firing up the snowmaking guns.
“If we get a foot of natural snow and compact that, it’s 2 inches,” said Jason Evans, a Dummerston contractor in charge of hill preparation. “You need a good base layer. We have to make a bunch of snow.”
That’s why locals who shoveled last week are watching in various states of wonder as volunteers take to the 90-meter ski jump — alone in its size in New England and one of just six in the nation — to funnel and freeze gallon upon gallon of water through 2,000 feet of pipe.
Evans and a crew of colleagues took turns manning up to five guns all night Thursday and all day Friday, until a compressor broke. Resuming snowmaking Saturday, they finished Sunday. Grooming machines from the nearby Mount Snow resort in West Dover are set to begin smoothing the result.
“There’s potential for a major winter storm on Thursday,” said Evans, who may see a week’s worth of firm foundation work snowed over by a too fluffy blanket. “If we get it, we’ll at least have the equipment.”
When the late Dartmouth Outing Club founder Fred Harris built the jump in his hometown in 1922, he needed only a few wooden boards for a launchpad and two more to lash to his feet before leaping off a mountaintop at speeds of 60 mph. But to draw this coming weekend’s crowd of elite athletes, a nonprofit group had to raise nearly $600,000 to rebuild the hill to International Ski Federation Cup standards that regulate snow cover.
Evans recalled past years of digging out from storm after storm, only to watch the accumulation evaporate just a few warm days before the event.
“Natural snow melts a lot quicker than manmade snow,” he said. “No matter how much snow falls, we still make it.”
This year’s competition will feature more than 40 top jumpers from Europe and North America on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children ages 6 to 12, with directions and more details available at harrishillskijump.com.