As my colleague, WGBY Producer Dave Fraser, remarked to me on the cold winter day that we climbed to the top of the famous Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro, Vermont – like the song says: “It’s a long way to the top…”
The Harris Hill Ski Jump is one of those quintessentially New England things. An event that happens once a year, centered around an activity or a cause or just for fun, and one which becomes part of the fabric of the community in which it takes place. You know what I’m talking about: much like the Strolling of the Heifers in Brattleboro, or the Big E in West Springfield, the Northampton Pride Parade or the Josh Billings RunAground in the Berkshires, these events become synonymous with the towns in which they take place. And they usually have a deep-rooted and fascinating history.
Every year, the Harris Hill Ski Jump draws people from all over the world, but its roots and its history lie with the people of Brattleboro. A local guy, Fred Harris, started the competition back in 1922. It was an instant success, and through the years people from all over, including Olympic athletes and competitors from across the globe, would journey to Brattleboro to soar like an eagle though space and try to leave their mark in the record books. When Fred passed on in 1961, the event didn’t die with him; others in the community picked up and carried the torch, and so here we are, 95 years later, looking to this year’s event which is slated for February 18th and 19th.
Do you think that Fred Harris envisioned that, almost a century later, people would be carrying on the tradition he started? Probably not. But Fred’s idea, like so many other ideas in so many communities throughout Western New England, was built on a solid foundation: one of vision, drive, commitment, and most important of all – community. His was a solitary idea, but it took a community to make it a tradition, one that’s 95 years strong. Because for as much as any idea, event, or institution can come from the individual, it takes a community to embrace it, grow it, and keep it alive.
Skiing down the slope of the Harris Hill Ski Jump is a solitary act; one of courage, and of vision, drive and commitment. And while it may be a long way to the top, for every skier who climbs that hill, takes up the challenge, and races down that slope… there’s a community waiting at the bottom of the hill to embrace them and celebrate their achievement.