Arts and Leisure

When New England Skiing Fever Took Hold in New Hampshire

[jpshare]With snow in the air, it’s the time of year north of the notches when New England skiing starts to grab hold of people’s minds.

New England Skiing posterWhile down below skiers start digging out gear, the resort operators will be hungrily eyeing their empty tills as they stock up on booze. The emergency rooms will be ordering extra X-ray films and crutches. Bode Miller is no doubt weighing offers to decide whose logos will appear on his hats, coats, goggles and gloves as he aims for the 2014 Olympics.

And who do we thank for all this madness? The Norwegian-born millworkers of Berlin, N.H., that’s who. Scandinavian immigrants were arriving in Berlin in droves in the 1840s to work building railroads. Many settled permanently in the area, taking advantage of the jobs available in the mills. The hospitable winter climate was just an added bonus.

It was only natural that they would bring one of their traditional sports to their new country, and in 1872 the Berlin Mills Ski Club was born. Skis at the time were used for both recreation and transportation, as they were often the best way to get around Berlin’s snowy streets.

The club, known as the Skilubben Club, started with a small jump, and was primarily a place for local Norwegian skiers to find competition. Before long, the club was gaining new members, both Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian, all united in their love of strapping wooden slats on their feet, jumping down hills and trying to avoid trees.

Soon after its founding, the club changed its name to the Nansen Ski Club in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer. Nansen was a hero to many Norwegians because of his adventures around the world. Their faith in him was well-rewarded, as he would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938 for his work aiding refugees.

Fridtjof Nansen (l) visits Berlin, New Hampshire to meet Nansen Ski Club Members, including Alf Halvorson (r)

Fridtjof Nansen (l) visits Berlin, New Hampshire to meet Nansen Ski Club Members, including Alf Halvorson (r)

Into the 1900s, the club continued to grow. It received a further boost when a young Scandinavian-American, Alf Halvorson, took the presidency at the age of 18. Halvorson, born in 1899, was a skier from the time he could walk, and winter sports were his passion.

He became a coach for the U.S. Olympic ski team, and a successful sports promoter, eventually managing the Hinsdale Raceway.

In 1937, thanks largely to the club’s efforts, Olympic ski jumping trials were held in Berlin, as it had the tallest ski jump in the eastern United States.

In 1929, perhaps the greatest honor in the ski club’s history occurred when Nansen himself visited Berlin. The city rolled out the red carpet and held a parade in his honor. The Nansen Ski Club remains in operation today. You can read about their history here.

The club also made one major improvement in the lives of non-skiers. In promoting the Berlin winter carnival to outsiders, the group persuaded the State of New Hampshire to plow the road through Pinkham Notch for the first time ever, and it’s been kept clear each winter ever since.

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