Goodbye to the Dartmouth "Big Hill"

flying over the knoll The ski jumping community marked the end of and era this weekend in Hanover NH. No speeches, no plaques, no gold watches, just ski jumping ... and memories. The word had been around for several months "The Dartmouth ski jump in coming down soon". And when the Great Blizzard of '93 dumped a couple of feet of snow on New England, locals with a sense of history decided to have one last fling. Phone calls went out, inviting jumpers to an informal competition, a goodbye party for a grand old institution. The organizers spent several evenings preparing the hill, it seems that the wind had not left much snow on the trestle. Saturday morning, the faithful began to assemble: kids who had never jumped so big a hill, old guys who had not jumped the hill in 25 years, current and past national champions. The affair was less a competition than it was a happening. There were no style judges, awards were just T-shirts and posters, few can even recall who won. But cameras were clicking, videos whirring, hugs and handshakes were everywhere. It was a time of remembering.

The Vale de Tempe jump was built in 1922 and was the site for Dartmouth Winter Carnival jumps and a training site for Dartmouth teams, for over 60 years. When the NCAA dropped jumping in the early 1980's, Dartmouth, encouraged by longtime ski coach Al Merrill, was one of the few colleges to continue supporting the sport. Through the years, there were also many open competitions and even more important, tens of thousands of practice jumps which helped develop hundreds of jumpers who grew up in the upper Connecticut River Valley.

  Mike, Joe, Chris, Dave Weider, Jamie Hutchins, Jim
After the competition, six jumpers from the local Ford Sayre Ski Club stood on the takeoff to pose for pictures. They possessed among them a total of 16 National titles (Chris Hastings 2, Joe Holland 3, Mike Holland 5, Jim Holland 6). These champions had all cut their teeth on the Dartmouth jump, but recent champions did not have a corner on the national crowns.

 

 
Two lean, fit septuagenarians conversed quietly on the knoll during practice jumping. Few of the jumpers, parents, or spectators knew that Warren Chivers and Dave Bradley were National nordic combined champions in 1937 and 1938.

By the time you read this, the Dartmouth trestle should be down, but ski jumping is by no means dead in the upper valley. The Lebanon Outing Club, just down the road, is nearly finished rebuilding its 40 meter hill, and we hear whispers of a possible 55 meter jump at Ford Sayre's Oak Hill jumping complex. So, to all the people, wherever you are, who made it all possible, last weekend and for 70 years, thanks. And thanks for the memories.

Don West, Plattsburgh NY
March 25, 1993

CONNECTIONS -- the Last Fling brought together people from all parts of the tightly woven ski jumping community. David Bradley (left) 1938 National Nordic Combined champion, was a star on the Dartmouth College Ski Team, and has been on the Dartmouth faculty for decades. Bradley grew up in Madison WI, where for years his father, Dr. H. C. Bradley held neighborhood jumping competitions on Sunday mornings. The meets were held on a small jump built by the Bradley boys as a summer project on a vacant lot in Shorewood Hills, a west-side neighborhod of Madison. Don West (right) is the last ski jumper still active, who took part in these events. West, now in his 60's, still competes in Masters age group jumping. Bradley, in his article "The Big Hill" in the Dartmouth Alumni magazine, writes that he last jumped off the Dartmouth ski jump at age 60.

[This article appeared as a letter (without pictures or sidebar) in a spring 1993 issue of Ski Racing.]


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