BRATTLEBORO—Harris Hill ski jump is the only Olympic-size slope in New England and one of just six in the nation.
This weekend, that could be a problem.
Thousands of spectators at the hill’s annual Presidents’ Day weekend competition are used to hearing public address announcer Peter Graves introduce athletes before they soar off a launchpad 30 stories high at 60 mph.
This month, however, the Vermonter’s voice is echoing over the loudspeakers at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
Likewise, many jumpers aren’t returning. Past participants including Kevin Bickner, Nita Englund, Michael Glasder, Casey Larson, Will Rhoads and Abby Ringquist — otherwise known as the U.S. Olympic ski jumping team — are in Pyeongchang, trading the Green Mountains for a shot at a gold medal.
It’s a peculiar challenge for Harris Hill: Being so good, you lose your best to the world stage once every four years.
That’s why locals are promoting this weekend’s Brattleboro event as the next best thing: The chance to discover the up-and-comers aiming for the 2022 games in Beijing.
“Here’s where you’ll see future Olympic jumpers,” says Patricia Howell, a member of Harris Hill’s organizing committee.
More than 40 top young male and female athletes from the U.S., Austria, and Slovenia are set to compete in the nearly century-old event.
“This is a bigger field than we’ve had in a long time,” says co-director Kate McGinn.
The 90-meter ski jump is a rarity. When the late Dartmouth Outing Club founder Fred Harris built it in his hometown in 1922, he simply laid down a few boards for a ramp and lashed two more to his feet to fly off what’s now one of the few natural venues on the continent.
But to draw this weekend’s crowd of elite athletes, a nonprofit group had to raise nearly $600,000 to rebuild the slope to International Ski Federation Cup standards. And because volunteers maintain everything, Harris Hill is open just two days each February.
This year the jump is competing not only with the Winter Games but also with winter itself. Organizers have manned snowmaking guns for the past week, only to watch above-freezing temperatures melt inch upon inch of their work.
“We’re making more snow, just to make sure we have enough,” says Jason Evans, a Dummerston contractor in charge of hill preparation.
Two Marlboro College jumpers — junior Spencer Knickerbocker, 25, of Brattleboro and senior Chris Lamb, 28, of Andover, N.H. — are set to represent the region in this weekend’s competition, which will feature the annual Pepsi Challenge on Saturday and Fred Harris Memorial Tournament on Sunday.