Harris Hill Ski Jump: An Annual Event Dependent on Community Volunteers | Local News

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BRATTLEBORO — It can be easy to attend an event and not think about what’s going on, but without volunteers, the Harris Hill Ski Jump wouldn’t continue year after year.

There are nearly 200 volunteers each year, according to Dana Sprague, who is the event’s historian and who is in charge of about 60 volunteers for managing and measuring the slopes. The Harris Hill Ski Jumping Tournament will take place February 20-21 this year, but Sprague says they lock in their volunteers the first week of January.

“Without the volunteers, this wouldn’t happen,” Sprague said.

Harris Hill Ski Jump, Inc. is a 501C-3 non-profit organization and the jump itself was built in 1922 at a cost of $2,000. Between 2005 and 2008 the hill was completely rebuilt to meet FIS (International Ski Federation) standards to qualify Harris Hill to host internationally sanctioned events. In 2012, the organization hosted the first-ever FIS Cup tournament in the United States.

More than nine decades after it was built, the event continues, with jumpers from across the United States and the world jumping from 90-meter ski jumps at approximately 60 mph. Beneath the skiers taking off, volunteers stand along the hill to measure the distances covered.

“It’s the coldest place to stand during the event,” Sprague said. “But it’s also the best place to watch the jumpers compete.”

Sprague says he likes to have 30 volunteers for each day and someone stationed every two meters from the jump because when the jumpers are going up at around 60 mph, “You can’t leave a big gap between the volunteers.”

Sprague sets up hill markers from the 55 yard mark to the 100 yard mark; normally the shortest jump is between 55 and 60 meters and the longest jump around 100 meters.

Over the years, Sprague has seen returning volunteers he can trust to do the job well. He mentioned John Clements, who has volunteered as a proofreader at the event for the past 18 years. Clements also owns Zephyr Designs and is allowing the storefront on Main Street in Brattleboro to be used as a display for the event.

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s quite enjoyable. It’s not something that makes me feel like volunteering because sometimes it can feel like work, it’s more like a game,” said Clements.

Clement’s son competed in the Vermont Academy ski jump until the school decided to tear him down. The next closest jump was in Lebanon and Clements felt that was “just too far”. So if his son couldn’t compete, he decided he would still love the sport as a spectator and volunteer at Harris Hill.

Sprague also mentioned Dave Lane of Dummerston who has volunteered at nearly every position at the Harris Hill Ski Jump for nearly 20 years and is now a chief scorer.

“It’s just an interest for me to be with the other jumpers. I’m very athletic and I volunteer for a lot of things as far as athletics goes,” Lane said.

Lane skipped throughout high school between 1961 and 1965 while a student at Brattleboro Union High School. At that time, he said, there were about 30 jumpers in town who were his age. When Lane left the service in 1968, he jumped for a few more years and then eventually began volunteering at Harris Hill, where one of his daughters, Shelby DavisLane, began jumping alongside Spencer Knickerbocker who was in his age group. .

Over the years, some technicalities have changed regarding the marking of ski jumps at Harris Hill. This will be the first year in three years that it has been measured manually and not electronically. For the past two years, this has been an event where competitors could earn points to qualify for the world cup standings, which required standardized marking and speeds.

“It’s more expensive to do that, so we’ve decided to be independent and not be part of the International Ski Federation (FIS) for this year. We’re taking a break,” Sprague said.

According to Sprague, the average age of volunteers has increased this year, and he hopes to get some “new blood.” Sprague says sometimes he and other volunteer coordinators reach out to Brattleboro Union High School students and people visiting the area through the New England Center for Circus Arts.

There are other volunteers who help with parking, tickets, security, and judging scores to the media. Naomi Pollica has been in charge of a range of full-time volunteers for around two years. In addition to the 200 volunteers who help out over the weekend at the event, some people, including Pollica and Sprague, donate their time throughout the year, known as the Harris Hill Volunteer Committee.

“There are about 10 of us who meet all year round,” Sprague said. “We work to get sponsors, secure skiers, register skiers, arrange travel and accommodation for jumpers, make sure they have food when they get here, make sure the field is plowed, set up vendors selling food and we drop sawdust if it gets muddy.”

In addition to the volunteers who make the Harris Hill Ski Jump possible, sponsors are a fundamental part of keeping the event running smoothly. Big names such as Pepsi are sponsoring the event with a total of $10,000 and local organizations such as Mount Snow, Auto Mall and Richards Group are the top three sponsors, each donating $5,000. Brattleboro Savings and Loan is the mascot sponsor and then there is a long list of sponsors for riders, accommodation, printing, banners and media.

Additionally, there have been in-kind donations from individuals and locals like Anson Baldwin who are trimming trees and collecting wood to make a possible bonfire for the event. According to Sprague, Baldwin donates some of his services for free. Sprague also mentioned Jason Evans and the Mount Snow staff who maintain the hill.

If there are high school students who still need community service hours to graduate or if there are people who would like to volunteer at the event for two to four hours, several people from the Harris Volunteer Committee Hill can be contacted. For anyone interested in helping mark hills (doesn’t need prior experience) and willing to work a four-hour shift, contact Sprague at 802-254-9590. For those wishing to assist with parking, contact Jim Strysko at 802-380-2145. For other volunteer options, contact Pollica at 603-465-1428.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 275

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