Festival at Nansen kicks off Saturday at noon

  • Holding parts of the steel track that will form the chute are, from left, Steve Finnigan-Allen, Jay Poulin, Brett Halvorson, Dave Roy, Shawn Costello. Courtesy

  • The view from the top, and side, of the Nansen Ski Jump. Installation of a steel/ceramic track is underway. Courtesy

The Berlin Sun
Published: 1/23/2023 4:49:54 PM
Modified: 1/23/2023 4:49:27 PM

BERLIN — Preparations are underway for the two-day winter carnival at the Nansen Ski Jump next weekend. Both events will take place at the site of the Big Nansen Ski Jump at 83 Milan Road (Route 16) in Milan.

The festival will include a homemade art sled rally and an Eastern Division Ski Jumping competition.

One of the challenges to holding the winter carnival this year will be ensuring there is enough snow on the ground for the activities. To make that happen a crew of volunteers from the Friends of Nansen worked around-the-clock last weekend with borrowed snowmaking equipment to augment this winter’s meager snowfall.

The volunteers worked in four-hour shifts, manning the machines to make piles of snow at Nansen Wayside Park. The snow will be taken to the jump be spread on the slope to create a smooth surface.

Kennett High School ski jumping coach Chip Henry will “groom it and make the place look beautiful,” Scott Halvorson, treasurer of the Friends, said.

Henry is the chief adviser for the Friends. He is also being honored this week with a ceremony renaming the Conway ski jump in his honor (see related story).

Snowmaking was not the only work to prepare Nansen’s jumps for the competition.

Preparing the ski jump for this winter began in November and continued through the New Year mark, said Jay Poulin, an engineer and president of HEB Engineers, Inc.

There are three parts of an athlete’s ski jump: the inrun, where the skier starts their descent down the length of the steep hill; the take off, when the skier leaves the jump and becomes airborne; and the landing hill, where the skier lands.

Modern ski jumps, since in the 1990s, are set up with parallel lines of ceramic tracks that provide a smoother surface for the inrun than a snow-covered hill, which is still used on some jumps.

In recent weeks a crew has been setting up the wooden platform and ceramic track along the steep slope of the hill to be used for the 39-meter jump. The main jump to be used in next week’s competition, the 39-meter jump is one of three jumps now at Nansen, along with the 80-meter Big Nansen and a smaller 10 meter beginners jump.

The festival kicks off next Saturday, Jan. 28, at noon, with the fourth annual Art Sled Rally at the base of the hill.

The rally is open to everyone and people are encouraged to be creative as they build their own sleds, which they will then sled down the lower portion of the landing hill, competing for distance traveled as well as the creativeness of their design. Prizes will be awarded.

Cardboard is the recommended building material for these sleds. Admission to the art sled rally is free for spectators and participants.

Guidelines are posted on the Nansen Ski Club website, skinansen.com, including such advice as “When building your sled, consider your safety should you crash.”

Sledders are asked to arrive at 11 a.m.

Beyond safety, imagination is king when it comes to sled design. Sledders can choose a theme song to go with their sled and to do so, email info@skinansen.com with the participant’s name, the name of the sled and the name of the song on or before Thursday, Jan. 26.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Halvorson said, and “it’s a great segue into Sunday, when we have the ski jumping event.”

The Eastern Ski Jumping competition begins at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Big Nansen. Jumping begins at 10:30 a.m.

For many years, when one thought of ski jumping, doing so at the Nansen Ski Jump and in Berlin went together.

“It was becoming the Nordic Center,” Halvorson said of Coos County’s ski jump. He is the grandson of Alf Halvorson, the first president of the Nansen Ski Club.

“We do want to reclaim a large part of that,” he said.

Training to be a ski jumper is similar to gymnastics: Athletes practice over and over and muscle memory helps them know where they are in the air. The size of the landing hill will determine how far the skiers can land and glide upright once they land. Indeed, that is the goal of the sport — to have “a well-managed flight,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson has never been a ski jumper, he said. His brother Brett Halvorosn went in for the more daring sports, he said.

Ski jumping is a safer sport today, said Halvorson. A ski jumper is about 8 feet off the ground even though at first glance, including on television, it might seem higher.

The size of the landing hill determines how far skiers can land and glide along the snow’s surface.

North Country pride

“The Nansen Ski Club has gone through a lot of revisions,” Halvorson said during a phone interview.

In addition to ski jumping, club promotes cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and maintains the cross-country trails at Milan Hill State Park.

The club’s name has changed since its formation over 100 years ago, as have the jump and slope itself (see related stories).

What remains throughout those years and today is the drive to rekindle volunteerism and grow the sport by encouraging younger ski jumpers to learn its challenges and thrills.

Encouraging the next generation of ski jumpers is a way to keep the Nansen Ski Jump in operation. Halvorson said he did not want to disparage alpine skiing but he believes ski jumping is safer. The skis used for jumping go into a track, proceed down to the bottom of the chute. The athlete gets into the proper posture in the air and then into the posture to land.

“It’s a cool sport and the ski jump community is so close and cohesive,” Halvorson said.

It’s an individual sport and yet, ski jumpers are part of a team. Not all kids’ sports are like that, he explained.

“We’re trying to get a Berlin team,” continued Halvorson. “We’re actively seeking Berlin kids — the younger the better.”

Halvorson spoke of a 9-year-old girl who ski jumped and loved it.

“Young kids, they’re fearless. They’re great little athletes,” he said. “Kids like doing stuff — kids like sledding, tobogganing and skiing.”

Lake Placid, N.Y., is home to the largest ski jump in the East. The Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro, Vt., is another New England ski jump. Yet the Nansen Ski Jump aims to reclaim its place as a top, if not the top, ski jumping site.

The Friends of Nansen want to “restore the sport in Berlin where it has had an incredible legacy,” Halvorson said. “I think we’re making a good start.”

“We really, really hope the community shows up for us like it did last year. It’s kind of a homecoming for us,” he said.

Friends indeed

Halvorson named other members of the Friends who have been key in moving the sport and the carnival forward. They include:

“Jay Poulin has been a main driving force behind the Big Nansen Restoration Project since the ‘Friends’ were formed in 2014. He is the president of HEB Engineers, a Berlin native and resident, and coordinates all our construction related activity, and more. He’s a pillar of the Berlin community and despite having irons in numerous fires he somehow never fails to make huge contributions to our projects.

“Shawn Costello is another charter member of the ‘Friends,’ and the only one among us that actually ski jumped, having gone off the Big Nansen. His family has a large legacy in the Nansen Ski Club and Shawn is a past president, among other things. Shawn is a Berlin native and resident and also was the chief organizer of the last ski jumping competition held at Big Nansen in 1985.

“Shawn Marquis is the current president of the Nansen Ski Club, having joined the board in 2018. Shawn M. is the Club’s chief manager and is especially active on the ‘trail’ side of the Club. He is a groomer of the trails and is also our most tech savvy member and most creative member. He is also a key member of the ‘Ski Jump Task Force,’ a core group planning and addressing the needs for our winter carnival. Shawn is a native and part-time resident of Berlin splitting his time in Portland, Maine.”

To register for either the sled rally or the ski jumping competition, go to skinansen.com.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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