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Greene: Training For The Jump

Karin Friberg is pictured here mid-air at the Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition in Brattleboro on Feb. 15, 2009.
Nancy Palmieri
Associated Press

All eyes are on Pyeongchang right now, but preparing athletes for elite contests begins locally.

Brattleboro’s Harris Hill has always been on the circuit, but since 2009, it conforms to international jumping standards as a 90 meter hill – great for Olympic preparation. But without small local programs, the stream of trained athletes can dry to a trickle. It’s happened nationally in ski jumping, and Vermont is no exception.

When Hugh Barber won the Harris Hill jump in 1972, ’73 and ’74, there were robust ski jumping programs throughout the state. Barber recalls going over progressively bigger moguls as a boy, moving on to the 60 foot jump at Memorial Park, and gradually improving until he could jump the big hills. Brattleboro Union High School had a ski jumping program, with BUHS often state champion. After graduation, Barber was recruited for Middlebury College’s ski jumping team by the Nordic Combined legend, John Bower. He was the first non-European to win the Holmenkollen King’s Cup in Norway in 1968.

Barber spent every winter weekend going to college meets on Fridays and Saturdays, then Eastern Ski Association (or ESA) Jump meets on Sundays.Every winter weekend Barber spent going to college meets on Fridays and Saturdays, then Eastern Ski Association (or ESA) Jump meets on Sundays. It was superb training, which helped him improve. Now, only the ESA meets exist. Programs began to close in the early ‘80’s Barber says, mostly due to concerns about insurance liability. After all, ski jumping is called the Original Extreme Sport - though Barber insists that downhill racing is more dangerous.

There are other changes as well. For one thing, ski jumping is now open to women. It used to be the province of big, strong guys, says Barber. Now the jumpers are often tall, but also much lighter, which allows them to travel farther. The skis are broader to catch the wind, and skis are held in a V formation, not parallel, to better use the wind’s updraft.

Still, local programs require dedicated volunteers. In Barber’s day, the competitors readied the hill for competition, boot-packing and ski packing the run and landing so they’d be hard - so if jumpers fell, they’d slide and not catch a ski. That could take two or three days. Now grooming machines do the work.

There’s talk of reviving Brattleboro’s Memorial Park jump. And while it might be less time consuming than before, it would still take dedication. But it’s worth it because the long game starts at home.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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