The First and Last Ski Jump in 32 Years

The historic Nansen Ski Jump, a towering 171-foot-tall steel structure built in 1938 in the former mill town of Berlin, New Hampshire, has sat unused and dilapidated for over 30 years. The jump, nicknamed “Big Nansen,” hosted the first Olympic ski-jumping qualifiers in 1938 and was a training and competition ground for the Nansen Ski Club, the country’s oldest continually operating ski club. Four U.S. Ski Jumping National Championships were held here over the years.

But by 1985, the jump wasn’t being used and fell into disrepair, so it was shuttered for good. Or, at least, until now.

On Saturday, March 4, American ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, in the midst of her own comeback after a devastating knee injury put her out of World Cup competition for 18 months, took one remarkable jump at a now-restored Nansen Ski Jump, which is in the process of being converted into a historic landmark. The leap was the first jump at Nansen in 32 years. Women’s Ski Jumping junior team member Anna Hoffmann joined Hendrickson as a jump tester.

“Two years ago, we proposed this idea and a couple of days ago, we really didn’t know if it would come together,” said Hendrickson, a Team Visa athlete. “It was so cool to ski out at the bottom and see the community at the bottom of the hill, everyone happy and telling their family ties at this jump. It was a priceless day.”

Hendrickson soared around 55 feet off the massive ramp in a brief, calm weather window. The Morecast weather app, a precise weather forecasting tool, was used to nail down the most ideal time for calm weather and wind for Hendrickson’s jump time.

“That’s one of the main things that people told me when we came up with this idea. They said, ‘You better watch the wind. It gets quite windy up there,’” Hendrickson added. “We’ve been watching that and knew that could have happened, but the weather cooperated with us quite well for that window and we got it done. We’re pretty fortunate.”

Hendrickson, 22, grew up in Park City, Utah, but she has family ties to New Hampshire. Her parents, Bill and Nancy, both New Hampshire natives and former ski racers, were high school sweethearts in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and her grandmother still lives in the area.

Sarah Hendrickson Sleeping Giant
Sarah Hendrickson in the heart of New Hampshire © Red Bull Content Pool
Sarah Hendrickson Sleeping Giant
Preparing for takeoff © Red Bull Content Pool

“Ski jumping was once a huge part of the community here, and I can still feel that when I am here,” said Hendrickson, the 2013 women’s ski jumping World Champion. “People are really excited about this project and having this jump restored as a historical landmark, it’s really an honor to come back and jump and hear the stories from families in this area.”

The Nansen Ski Jump, which is owned by the state of New Hampshire, has been on the list of historic sites needing repair for years, but it was low on the priority list. “There was enthusiasm and energy to repair this jump, but there just weren’t the resources we needed,” says Ben Wilson, director of the Bureau of Historic Sites for New Hampshire State Parks.

Enter Sarah Hendrickson, who first visited the site of the Nansen Ski Jump in the fall of 2015. After climbing up a ladder to the jump’s decking, she beamed, and announced, “I want to hit this.”

Sarah Hendrickson Sleeping Giant ?
Anna Hoffman and Sarah Hendrickson, the heroes © Red Bull Content Pool
Sarah Hendrickson Sleeping Giant
The lady of the day, Sarah Hendrickson © Red Bull Content Pool
 By Megan Michelson/Red Bull Content Pool

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.