Skip Johnstone knew he didn’t have much time to waste. The school board in Plymouth, New Hampshire, was about to convene for its September meeting and on the agenda was an item recommending the removal of Plymouth High School’s failing ski jump.
Johnstone has been a skier for most of his life. His two sons also ski regularly and compete on the Plymouth (New Hampshire) High School ski jumping team. He quickly gathered some other skiing supporters and attended the school board meeting.
“I learned of the school board meeting about 30 minutes before it began,” Johnstone said. “We just wanted to say ‘wait a minute, let’s wait and see what can be done [with the jump].’”
The school board agreed to hold a public hearing later in the month on the future of the ski jump. The meeting drew more than 80 supporters in favor of keeping the ski jump. Even with that support, it was determined that the current jump was failing and was not repairable.
The ski jump was built in 1979 and helped propel Plymouth as a ski-jumping hotbed in ski-crazy New Hampshire. It is the only state in which ski jumping remains a sanctioned high school sport. Even so, there are just seven New Hampshire schools that sponsor a ski-jumping team. Losing one of the few remaining high school ski jumps would be a major blow to the interscholastic sport. However, ski jumps are expensive to maintain and Plymouth’s was falling apart. It was built using utility poles, which were starting to fail.
“At the meeting, it was clear the jump needed to come down,” Johnstone said. “But, [the school board] said if we could find money to rebuild it, go ahead.”
Johnstone laid out an ambitious goal of having a new ski jump in place for this winter – which would be his son’s senior season – and hoped to raise $50,000 for the project.
“This all came on us pretty quick and I didn’t know how the community would react,” Johnstone said. “But, we rolled up our sleeves and got the word out.”
Johnstone created a Facebook group, “Save Our Ski Jump,” and quickly realized how much support it had. In the first month, the group raised $60,000 with donations from as far away as Hawaii and Europe. A local contractor offered to demolish the old jump for free, saving $7,500, and an engineering firm provided $5,000 worth of services to design the new jump. Johnstone said that the students have even been involved with soliciting donations from the local community.
“It’s been a great learning experience for them. They’ve seen how the community has rallied when we fought for what we wanted.”
The group’s effort got another boost when the local Hendrickson family offered its support. Sarah Hendrickson, whose parents still live in the area, is an Olympic ski jumper and the first woman to ever jump in a ski jumping event at the 2014 Olympics. Hendrickson agreed to appear at a November fundraiser in Plymouth, which raised an additional $12,000.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I envision this. I was optimistic, but knew we had a huge undertaking,” Johnstone said. “The community has come together to support a sport that’s struggling to hang on.”
Even though the school’s plan didn’t initially include a rebuilt jump, Johnstone says the district’s cooperation and encouragement has been outstanding.
“I have been blown away by the support from so many individuals in our community,” Plymouth Ski Coach Dan LeBlanc said. “I never dreamed that so many were interested in the fortunes of our ski jumping program and the survival of our unique New Hampshire sport.”
The ski jump was completed by Thanksgiving with longer-lasting pressure-treated wood and is ready for the winter season. In addition, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association will hold the 2016 state championship at Plymouth.
Now that the jump is built, Johnstone envisions using the remaining donations to buy “new” used ski equipment for the school, which hasn’t been replaced in 20 years. There’s also talk of starting a middle school program to get more kids involved.
“[The effect] could last well into the future and invite younger kids into ski jumping,” Johnstone said. “It’s just a feel-good story all around.”
Chris Boone is the assistant director of publications and communications.