Last week the top ski jumpers from high schools across New Hampshire gathered for the Ski Jump State Championship in Plymouth. But as NHPR's Sean Hurley reports, the event almost didn't happen.
15 year old Plymouth sophomore Luke Johnstone remembers the old ski jump. "I didn't like it too much," he says. "It was pretty scary. Little wobbly up at the top there. So I didn't really like it too much."
Wobbly, and according to a structural engineer, far from safe. So, on October 14th, 2015, the 35 year old structure was torn down and a capital campaign was hastily organized. "And people from around the world were donating money to get this jump built," Johnstone says.
3 months and 65,000 dollars later, the final boards were nailed in place and the Gene Ross Memorial Ski Jump was ready.
"Welcome everybody to the State Championship jumping meet here at Plymouth," Ski Coach Morgan Stepp announces over the PA. "Thank you all for coming!"
The first flight of jumpers carry their skis to the top of the four story wooden tower and the watches as 16 year old Nick Ross pushes off the bar in a tight crouch and then launches himself 22.5 meters.
Clutching huge skis, Ross climbs the rickety stairs from the bottom of the hill. He says all the attention surrounding the new jump has reinvigorated the Plymouth High team. "This jump got a lot of hype so it actually built up our team a ton," he says. "We normally only have like 8, 7 jumpers each year - this year we had 25 jumpers on our team."
Luke Johnstone agrees. "Our girls team this year from Plymouth just skyrocketed. Last year we had 2 girls on the team. This year we have about 8 or 9. And the girls on our team are just killing it this year. It's awesome. So many great freshmen this year," he says as 15 year old Elizabeth Barker lands a 15 meter jump.
"When I'm standing up there waiting I kind of get a little nervous," Barker confides. "Like I don't know how I'm gonna do on this jump, like is it icy? Is it too fast? And then when I put my skis on and I'm on the bar I just get excited and I don't have any more nerves."
Barker joins fellow teammates Sam Ebner, Sawyer Wilcox and Ethan Whitman and looks down over the list of her competition.
"Holly and Rebecca. I'm gonna beat them," Barker says and hesitates. "No I'm not! I'm gonna try to beat them. I just want the three - any three Plymouth girls top 3. I don't care if it's me or -"
"Too bad we don't have Kiki," Sam Ebner interjects, "cause she's right now first in the state."
But Plymouth Freshman Kiki Dodge isn't here tonight. Teammate Ethan Whitman says the freshman fell at last week's competition and injured her knee. "She fell a lot her first two meets," Whitman says. " She was falling a lot and she just slowly progressed and then lately she's been amazing."
"She was beating all the girls," Barker adds. "She was hucking herself every single jump. I envy her so much!"
"I fell last year," Sam Ebner says, "and busted up my shoulder and that freaked me out so I wasn't back up the jump till the beginning of this year."
"It's a huge mental sport," Barker says. "If you fall you kind of have to take a break and think about what you're doing and then try and mentally get back up there even if you're not hurt.
Nick Ross watches his older brother Zach get into position at the top of the jump. "Actually," Nick Ross says, "my older brother, he was six and my dad had him going over the jump."
The old jump that is. The jump their father, Gene Ross, helped build in 1979 when he was on the team. "He actually passed away quite a few years ago sadly," Nick says.
In 2003, Gene Ross died in a construction accident. At the time, he'd been the Plymouth ski jump coach for more than a decade. What would he think about the new jump I ask his son?
"Oh he'd be ecstatic," Nick Ross says. "He'd be all over it."
And no doubt pleased that Plymouth High finished first at this year's State Championship.