Gunstock Nordic Association
West Lebanon, NH
New Hampshire High School Ski Jumping in the 1980s:
Thank you coaches and volunteers…and “Nothin’ to lose”
This is a long overdue “thank you” to coaches and volunteers in the New Hampshire high school ski jumping family and beyond…and especially to Dartmouth College alum and member of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, T. Gary Allen, who founded the Gunstock Nordic Associate (GNA). Gary inspired jumping in the northeast throughout his lifetime and I had the good fortune to know Mr. Allen, access his barn (filled with jumping and cross-country equipment rentals) and grow up near the Gunstock jumps in Gilford, NH.
Back in the 1980s, the Gunstock ski jumps were known to me as the 10m, 20m, 40m and 70m. Each jump had its own flavor and the progressive transition between each hill was an adventure of its own. In fact, I can recall my early jumps on each hill with feelings of exhilaration, want, respect, fear, satisfaction…and everything in between. I also remember my first jumping coach, Cynthia Kling, who was encouraging and provided constructive feedback at every evening practice. Thank you, Cynthia.
If you don’t know, Cynthia was pioneer and a thought leader in our sport. She was the first woman to be a certified FIS jumping judge and I remember discussing her strong desire to see women compete at national and international levels as far back as the 1970s. Cynthia was a life-long educator and made highly coveted wool hats that were the envy of Lakes Region residents. She also wore a unique hat, likely procured at one of her overseas judging events.
The transition from the 10m to the 20m hill was a big one as the 20m jump was all trestle, and a big step in both speed and air. Gunstock’s 40m was large compared to its regional peers with generally higher speeds and flight paths. The 70m jump was trestle and natural hill, best in class and host to national and international competitions. I remember watching Arnold, Hastings, Holland(s), Konopacke, Malmquist(s), McGrane, Mewborn, Palmer, Petrie, Volmrich, Zuehlke, and many more who flew far at Gunstock.
During these years, the local GNA volunteers, including my parents who were officers of this non-profit, worked nights to keep all four jumps (including stairs and lights) alive during the season. It was a herculean effort and something non-existent in society today. Across Gilford, Laconia, and Belmont, families regularly opened their homes to host international and regional competitors. Many of our mothers also designed and fabricated jump suits that were handed down and around town. In this decade, I also recall being inspired by Olympians, Bill Koch and Walter Malmquist, who visited for clinics. Awesome and thank you, all!!!
Sixth grade to Senior year: The 1987 NH State Meet…Team Win and Nothin’ to Lose
As I grew older, I recall watching my older brother and his peers compete at the high school level. I remember admiring members of the Purcell, McCrillis, Dion, Heisted, Lynch, Tuohy, Joyce, Fletcher, Maxwell, Duvall, Hancock, Robertson, Fleming, and Worthley families, among many others. Over these years in NH (and beyond), I also heard fantastic nicknames like Wampa, Crowbar, Flea, and Stork, to name a few. Our high school and GNA coaches Cynthia Kling, Chase Kling, Kurt Kling, Steve Young, Don Stephenson and Mark Johnson—were dedicated and greatly contributed to the entire NH Nordic community. Thank you.
When I arrived in 6th grade, I was (finally) eligible to compete on the varsity ski jumping team at Gilford Middle High School (GMHS). At the time, each school needed four qualifying entries which often meant that there was a “chosen one” to round out the squads. The chosen one was typically someone that may or may not have had skiing experience and was likely recruited the week prior. This was a fairly normal tactic at this level. Fortunately, our school had depth, but we competed against other teams from Laconia, Lebanon, Kingswood, Kennett, Hanover, and Newport high schools that couldn’t always produce four jumpers come Saturday.
I’ll never forget my very first meet (as a sixth grader) held at Kennett’s jump, located alongside North Conway’s Kancamagus Highway. I distinctly remember one jumper nicknamed, “Bam” from Kingswood High School. I never knew Bam’s real name, but he had a full beard and, to me, looked well over 21 years of age. Bam skied on Kongsberg skis (that were twice as long as mine), sported a heavy, white Motorcycle helmet, goggles, baggy sweatpants and the puffiest of red parkas. This oversized, unsanctioned jacket hung far below his waist. As an extra piece of equipment, Bam also carried a fifth of Jack Daniel’s tucked inside his parka pocket. I’ll never forget seeing him (or his performance fuel) atop that jump. Bam was courageous, poetic, and frightening all at the same time…and looking back, I realize that he was the “chosen one” for his school that day. I especially admired Bam for his bravery and that he was “all in” for the Kingswood Knights…and because the outrun was among the shortest in the country; complete with hay bales and a chain link fence to thwart us all from spilling on the Kanc.
Throughout my high school career and through my senior year, I never won nor do I remember being terribly close to the podium. I do recall regularly finishing high enough to score points each of my seven years on the team…and thank goodness for the high school format, counting the best 2 out of 3 jumps…and also for my peer competitors that included family names such as Carey, Dion, Dwinell, Langlois, Leggett(s), Lewis, Stefan, Hall, LaFrance, Orem, Prince, Tuohy, Tetrault, Worthley and many more. These are all folks that I would enjoy sharing a beverage (or round of golf…shout out to Flying Further…thank you Tom Oddy and the many volunteers who produce this fall outing). And, many of us were lucky to participate in the Dartmouth Winter Carnival jumping event as juniors, which was very special.
Towards the end of the winter of 1987 season and seven years of early morning bus rides and an overexposure to heavy metal, reggae and classic rock, the NH high school state meet was held in at Gunstock, my home jump. The “state meet” held individual titles but also combined jumping, cross country and alpine events for a team points competition and overall high school winner.
Here is how I recall my three jumps that night…
Jump 1#: I had an average, typical jump for the season and think that I scored somewhere between fourth or sixth in the pack.
Jump #2: I remember losing focus halfway down the inrun, missing the take off and having a subpar, forgetful ride…definitely the throw away jump of the set.
Jump #3, As I was wrapping my cable bindings around my mid-calf Adidas boots and awaiting the “all clear” signal from the starter, I said to myself, “this is your last official jump of your high school career”. I also recall taking a deep breath, uttering, “You have nothin’ to lose”. In that moment, I experienced a calm focus that came over my person. As I kicked out of the chute, skiing into the inrun tracks, I found myself relaxed while progressing through the table and in making my move.
When I launched over the knoll that night, I experienced a puff of air and remained completely relaxed, fluid (as compared to practice jumps where I would typically tense resulting in a short ride). Well…that puff lifted me down to the bottom of the hill that night…a good 3 meters beyond the chief marker.
After the meet, my high school coach (and math teacher), Don Stephenson, hugged me as the win, including the high placing of my teammates that night, would weigh heavily in the overall point totals. I also remember the judge, Chase Kling, finding me, shaking my hand and saying that it was my best jump of the season. My Dad came down from his marking spot to celebrate and I remember classmates around the outrun experiencing our sport for the first time.
In the end, the combination of our jumping, alpine (slalom and gs) and cross-country performances, brought Gilford Middle High School the overall state skiing title…and possibly the only sweep in all four disciplines in state history (not confirmed). This last meet was my only high school ski jumping victory and the NHIAA Boy’s Skiing win for our school made it the perfect crescendo to a seven-year high school varsity skiing career.
Thank you to my parents and all New Hampshire high school coaches (especially Coach Stephenson!), judges, volunteers, and friends who made high school ski jumping possible for us in the 1980s. May ski jumping in New Hampshire live strong. This Gilford Golden Eagle is deeply thankful and cherishes the memories.