MILAN, N.H. — Some of the Northeast’s best young ski jumpers took flight at the country’s oldest ski club on Sunday, continuing a comeback for the once-popular winter sport featuring speed, skill and sometimes spills.
The Eastern Ski Jumping Meet took place at the Nansen Ski Club in the shadow of one of the nation’s oldest jumps during Milan’s 102nd annual winter carnival in northern New Hampshire.
The club was formed by Norwegian immigrants in the late 1800s. They built the 172-foot (51-meter) “Big Nansen” jump in 1937 with government help and hosted Olympic trials a year later.
At the height of the sport’s popularity in the mid-1900s, there were more than 100 jumping sites in the Northeast alone.
But the sport fell out of favor decades later, and the NCAA stopped sanctioning it as a collegiate sport in 1980.
Back then, “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” began each broadcast showing the famous “agony of defeat” footage of Slovenian jumper Vinko Bogataj crashing off a jump, something that didn’t help the sport, the Nansen Ski Club’s treasurer said.
“It is actually one of the factors for the decline of ski jumping, with this guy being shown every Saturday doing this crash, and you think oh my god, he must be dead,” Scott Halverson said.
Bogataj survived. And decades later, the sport is experiencing a resurgence. In 2011 ski jumping returned to the collegiate level, welcoming women jumpers for the first time.
There are only about a dozen active ski jump hills remaining in the Northeast, ranging from small high school jumps to the state-of-the-art towers in Lake Placid, New York.
In Milan, the club is restoring its big jump, which has been dormant since 1985. They hope to have structural repairs completed by next season.
And on Sunday, the Eastern Meet competitors aged 5 to 18 used two smaller jumps. Girls and women made up about 44% of the competitors.
“It’s the adrenaline and the feeling of flying,” said competitor Kerry Tole, 18, a senior at Plymouth Regional High School, the only high school in the country with its own ski jump on campus.
“It’s different than alpine skiing because it’s all like one big moment. Most of the people I see at (ski jump) clubs, especially the younger kids, are mostly girls,” she said.
The longest jumper Sunday flew roughly half the distance of an American field. And competitors are pining for more.
“The kids that are going off our smaller jump always point to Big Nansen and say, ‘When are we going to be going off that?’” said Halvorson. “Ski jumping is definitely making a comeback and we are part of that story.”