Remembering the Dartmouth ski jump: 1929-1993

by Evan Morgan | 2/20/17 8:30pm

For 64 years, two towers stood tall to distinguish Dartmouth from the New Hampshire countryside. Of course, the first was Baker Tower, erected in 1928 — Baker stood for the academic side of Dartmouth. The second was the ski jump, an 85-foot steel-and-snow behemoth whose silhouette looked over the golf course. For generations of college students, the jump — sometimes referred to by its location, the Vale of Tempe — symbolized the outdoor side of Dartmouth.

“Impossible not to love the old hill,” wrote David Bradley ’38, English professor and former Nordic combined champion, in a lyrical 1993 piece for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. “It waited with a special solicitude for the beginning skiers who, on a fraternity dare or determined to force a personal rite of passage, slid out on a Sunday when no one was around.”

The enormous trestle, which abutted the Hanover Country Club’s 13th green, was constructed in 1929. It succeeded a line of cruder jumps which had sprung up after the first Winter Carnival in 1911. In these early days, ski jumping was the centerpiece of the carnival. The jumping events customarily concluded the weekend, and Dartmouth men and their dates flocked by the hundreds to the golf course to watch.

Ski jumpers, the extreme athletes of their day, could put on a compelling show. “Among the most interesting events to the visitors were the somersaults turned in mid-air by C.G. Paulson, the New Hampshire State College expert, who has thrilled the carnival crowds for three consecutive years,” the New York Times reported on the 1916 carnival.

“The jumpers were a different breed,” said John Morton, an Olympic biathlete and former head coach of Dartmouth skiing. “It took tremendous leg strength, explosive power and just guts to go that fast straight down the in-run and just launch yourself into the air.”

Over the years, the focus of American competitive skiing shifted. The Nordic style, with its emphasis on cross-country skiing and jumping, became less popular. Alpine, the downhill style including slalom and giant slalom, took its place. But jumping continued to draw crowds. Ticket sale records show that the jumping events at Winter Carnival consistently brought thousands of people out to the Vale of Tempe.

In 1980, however, competitive ski jumping in the United States took a serious blow. The NCAA Skiing Rules Committee voted to eliminate the sport from collegiate competition. The move was partly a result of the sport’s waning popularity in the United States, but other factors were at play as well. Not every school had the luxury of a nearby jump, and those who did struggled to maintain their facilities and cope with liability. Moreover, to gain a competitive edge, skiing coaches had resorted to an expensive tactic: recruiting from Europe. By dropping jumping, Morton said, the dominant public schools of the day, like the University of Vermont and the University of Utah, could reduce costs and maintain relative parity.

Dartmouth ­— and Morton, the head ski coach at the time — fought hard to keep the old traditions in place. Though jumping had been eliminated as an official carnival event, the College continued to maintain the facility and host events off the college circuit. Eventually, though, the maintenance costs piled up. In 1993, the jump was torn down.

Today, the sport has had a rebirth of sorts in America, particularly among female skiers, who have recently become internationally competitive in a new Olympic sport: women’s ski jumping (men’s ski jumping has been included in every Winter Olympics). But at Dartmouth, jumping remains a relic of past winters. The only remnant of the old ski jump? A stone monument near the Vale of Tempe location — and the memories of the jumpers of yesteryear, who soared beneath steely New Hampshire skies.