BRATTLEBORO—COVID-19 forced the Harris Hill Ski Jump to cancel its annual February competition, but it hasn’t stopped Vermont’s sole Olympic-size venue from leaping forward and launching its centennial celebration for 2022.
“There aren’t many traditions in sports that go back 100 years,” Peter Graves, an East Thetford resident and 11-time Winter Games broadcaster, said in announcing a Harris Hill Story Project to gather competitor and crowd memories. “Historically, this is one of the oldest tournaments in the world.”
It all began with the late Fred Harris, a young contemporary of the high-flying Wright brothers, inventors of the airplane. The pioneering “extreme skier” who founded Dartmouth College’s Outing Club in 1909 built his namesake ski jump with $2,200 of his own money in 1922.
“When you talk about Fred Harris,” Graves said at a recent online press conference, “you really talk about one of the fundamental people that was involved in the promotion of American skiing.”
Since its start, the Brattleboro landmark — the only 90-meter hill in New England and one of just six of its height in the country — has attracted ski jumpers from North America and Europe who leap off a peak 27 stories high at speeds of up to 60 mph.
Harris Hill has hosted nine national championships, starting in 1924 with the first finals held in the East and continuing up to the U.S. qualifiers for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
At its zenith in 1951, the jump set athlete and attendance records with 168 sportsmen and 10,000 spectators — fittingly, on the day the facility was officially named “Harris Hill.”
The ski jump has been cancelled a dozen times in its history — either because of a lack of snow, World War II, a mid-2000s hiatus to rebuild to international standards or, this year, a pandemic.
“We considered the enormous health risks to the jumpers, coaches, and judges coming from around the country and overseas,” event co-directors Kate McGinn and Liz Richards said of this month’s cancellation. “Those risks would extend to the hundreds of volunteers who staff the competition and the thousands of spectators who come from all over New England.”
‘So many stories out there’
Undeterred, those who manage and maintain the nonprofit venue are jump-starting next year’s centennial celebration by unveiling the Harris Hill Story Project, which comes with its own YouTube channel and kickoff video featuring Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, deemed by Smithsonian magazine as “Britain’s Most Lovable Ski Jumper.”
“There are so many stories out there,” says local broadcaster Peter “Fish” Case, who works the jump’s public address system with Graves. “We will be looking beyond the jumpers to people who’ve attended, wedding proposals, the whole nine yards.”
Harris Hill volunteers have scheduled next year’s competition for Feb. 19-20, 2022, with more information available on their website, harrishillskijump.com.
“It’s an iconic winter event for Brattleboro and the whole state,” co-director Richards said. “We’re proud that we’ve kept the tradition going — hopefully, for many more years.”