Jumping the Slopes

Brattleboro is ready to host some high-flying fun for the 98th time this weekend ‒ Feb. 15 and 16th ‒ at the annual Harris Hill Ski Jump Competition. One of just six 90-meter hills in the country, some of the best up-and-coming ski jumpers from around the United States and Europe will gather to soar 300 feet in the air at speeds of 60 mph in hopes of winning at Harris Hill.

“The weekend is exciting because it is an entire outing and it has a very festive atmosphere,” said Sally Seymour, media coordinator for the competition. “When you first come into the field, there is a kind of carnival atmosphere. There are flags flying and music playing. You can see the jumpers preparing their skis by waxing and scraping them. We have a bonfire going and do an opening ceremony to introduce the athletes and our junior jumping team, and local talent sings the National Anthem.”

Gates open at 10 a.m., allowing spectators to see the preparations and practice jumps before competition begins at 12:15 p.m. Throughout the day, fans can grab a bite to eat at one of the food vendors, a drink in the beer tent, or a t-shirt or cow bell (in true Nordic sport tradition) from the souvenir area.

“The highlight is the jumping, and crowds are looking for a good, long jump,” Seymour said. “The record is marked on the side so visitors can look to see how close each jump comes.”

The record holder, Blaz Pavlic of Slovenia, set the record at 104 meters in 2017 when he won at Harris Hill for the first time. He repeated with another victory in 2019, and will be back in 2020 looking for his third win and the opportunity to retire the hill’s Winged Ski trophy. However, among the competition will be Marlboro College graduate Chris Lamb, who, having won in 2010 and 2013, will also be seeking a third championship and the chance to become just the sixth person to retire the trophy.

Of course, Pavlic and Lamb will also need to overcome bids from the other jumpers, which include 26 male athletes and nine female competitors who are gathering in Vermont from training centers in Park City, Utah, as well as Steamboat Springs, Colo., Lake Placid, N.Y., Europe and more.

“I know the athletes appreciate all of the attention we give them,” Seymour said. “A restaurant in town gives them meal vouchers for Friday night and we hold a banquet on Saturday and have lunches ready for them. We put them up in a hotel and pick them up from the airport so they don’t have to worry about getting here. We try to be very friendly and we are very grateful they’ve come.”

An all-volunteer organization makes the event come to life each year. Starting around mid-October, a committee meets regularly to plan the event, but the work on the hill itself begins for the following spring as soon as the snow melts and the ground dries out. The area is mowed several times, the stairs along the side to the top of the jump are maintained and the judge’s tower is painted.

“Man-made snow has different properties and it compacts more, so that is actually preferred for the landing hill. We have snow guns and hoses, and about two weeks out we look for a cold night, and hopefully a day to make snow. That happened last week. Then Mount Snow loans us a snow cat and they come to spread the snow,” Sawyer said, noting that two days before the jumpers come, volunteers are out marking the hills and the distances. “The Harris Hill Ski Jump Competition has become a signature winter event for the Brattleboro area. There is a lot of community spirit, and Brattleboro has always been proud of it. It is an institution and for some people it seems like the hill has been around forever.”

For Sawyer, she is looking most forward to seeing the jumpers and the officials come this weekend, bringing with them their love of the sport. She also loves working with the many volunteers who make the event happen year after year.

“It’s a very euphoric feeling to have it come together.” she said. “Like any project, when you finish it and see it is worthwhile and successful, it is a great feeling.”

The 98th Annual Harris Hill Ski Jump Competition will be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 16, on Cedar Street in Brattleboro. Parking is free and tickets at the gate can be purchased by cash or check for $20 for adult, $15 for youth ages 6-12. Under six are free. Advance tickets sales from select area locations are available for $15 for adults and $12 for youth. For more information, visit www.harrishillskijump.com or www.facebook.com/HarrisHillSkiJump.