Harris Hill conquers Olympic challenges
Tara Geraghty-Moats, a 24-year-old West Fairlee native, was one of more than 40 athletes at the Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro.

Harris Hill conquers Olympic challenges

Despite a South Korean talent drain and February thaw, thousands turn out for ski jumping tournament.

BRATTLEBORO — Vermonter Tara Geraghty-Moats, who fractured her elbow last fall, just missed making the 2018 U.S. Olympic ski jumping team. But that didn't stop the 24-year-old from doing the next best thing: Performing before a home-state crowd of thousands over the weekend at the annual Harris Hill tournament.

“This has been a nice consolation prize,” the West Fairlee native said of the two-day Brattleboro event. “It's not beneficial to compete when you're injured, but I really love jumping with my friends and family watching.”

Geraghty-Moats was one of nine female athletes ready to prove they could face 32 male counterparts at a slope that's the only Olympic-size venue in New England and one of just six in the nation.

Fighting Mother Nature was a tougher challenge. Rain and rising temperatures days before the event nearly turned the previous week of snowmaking into something resembling mashed potatoes.

“It's exactly what we planned for,” Dummerston contractor Jason Evans, head of the hill's dozen-member maintenance crew, said with a wry smile as he groomed the frozen surface. “Man-made snow holds up better than natural snow.”

Austrian coach Florian Gugg had good words for the Americans' work.

“It's not easy to prepare a hill like this,” Gugg said. “It's perfect.”

The weather wasn't the only thing that threatened to melt the competition. Many past participants are representing the U.S. in South Korea, leaving their Vermont slots to up-and-comers aiming for the next Winter Games in 2022.

Claudio Mörth, 17, of Austria won Sunday's annual Fred Harris Memorial Winged Ski Trophy by coming within one meter of matching the hill's long-distance record of 104 meters.

“When I jumped, I fly,” Mörth, who speaks German and dabbles in English, Italian and Spanish, said of his leap. “I want to be great.”

A fellow European, Andraz Modic, 21, of Slovenia, also came close to the record set last year by his countryman Blaz Pavlic, only to fall upon landing Saturday, sending the cheering crowd into silence.

Within minutes, Modic, surrounded by medics, raised his hands to encourage - and elicit - more applause. On Sunday, the Slovenian decided to recline in a lounge chair rather than return to the launchpad 30 stories high.

“Front row,” he said of his seat.

Geraghty-Moats was one of five Vermont athletes speeding off the starting ramp at 60 mph.

Marlboro College student Chris Lamb, 28, a two-time Winged Ski Trophy winner, ranked fourth this year, missing the podium by a single point.

His classmate, Spencer Knickerbocker, 25, not only competed but also coordinated an affiliated Nordic combined cross-country race at the nearby Brattleboro Outing Club course.

“The whole week has been wet and rainy,” Knickerbocker said, “but then it got cold and it made everything firm up.”

Cameron Forbush and Caleb Zuckerman, both 12, represented Norwich. The two young athletes have heard recent news that their town has produced more Olympians per capita than any other place in the country.

But that's not what brought them to Harris Hill this Presidents' Day weekend.

“We do it for fun,” they said in unison.

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