Meet the Ski Club Board
Shawn Marquis - President
Melissa Laplante - Vice President
Scott Halvorson - Treasurer
Phoebe Backler - Director
Jane Brannen - Director
Shawn Costello - Director / Chair of Ski Jump Committee
Faith Kimball - Director
Amy Kuzma - Director
Maureen Ramsey - Director
Nansen Ski Club
Founded by a group of Norwegians in the late 1800's, today's Nansen Ski Club, the oldest continuously-run ski club in the country, began in Berlin, New Hampshire under the name "Skiklubben." Early historical articles of the Nansen Ski Club credit Olaf (Spike) Oleson with sparking interest in skiing when he arrived in Berlin. With pine boards from the sawmill, he fashioned the first pair of skis with steel bindings ever made in New England. He made skis for himself and friends, while assembling a core of some nine Norwegian immigrants that formed the club.
A long line of old-timers from the club report that the group got it’s beginnings in 1872,while clear signs point to activity surely being underway by 1882, most notably with competitive events in ski jumping and cross-country. Ski jumping was held on a crude ski jump built over a fence near the local mill's dynamite house on Brown Avenue, (now Heritage Street).Skiklubben quickly expanded and was renamed "The Berlin Mills Ski Club" in 1886, which reflected the name of the employer of most of the club's members. At this time, ski jumping moved from Brown Avenue to a tract of land known as Paine's Pasture (owned by Samuel Paine) where jumping in Berlin primarily happened for the next 40 years. Multiple jumps were built over time at Paine’s with each new one becoming larger and sending skiers flying faster and longer. One such tower constructed in 1897, launched the first human known to ski jump through a ring of fire - Adolph Oleson. Adolph was also reported to be the first person to somersault off of a Berlin jump, finally succeeding after a number of earnest attempts; which was quite a feat given the equipment of that time.
Inspired by the achievements of the Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat, Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen; the club was renamed "Skiklubben Fridtjof Nansen" around 1905-1907. Nansen made the first crossing of the Greenland interior on cross-country skis in 1888 and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. Fritdjof visited Berlin in 1929, meeting with members of the club and enjoying a parade through the city in his honor. Originally made up exclusively of Scandanavians, the club opened its membership to men of all nationalities. The name of the club would later be changed to "Nansen Ski Club" to spare non-Scandanavian folks the challenge in pronouncing his first name.
Throughout this time, great developments in skiing were being launched on the eastern seaboard by NSC president, Alf Halvorson - who led the club as president beginning in 1917. Alf worked with ski clubs in New York and Vermont to form the United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association in 1922, which standardized ski competition rules and established a regular circuit of jumping events.
In Berlin, Alf's work led to the Nansen Ski Club's first winter carnival in 1922, which featured a ski jumping event and a 100-mile cross-country ski relay race from Portland, Maine to Berlin. The race began on February 10th in one of the worst blizzards ever to hit New England and took 21 hours to complete. Newspaper stories about both the conditions and the hardships endured by the competitors captivated readers throughout the country over the course of four days. The following year, the NSC organized a hybrid race starting at the Halfway House on Mount Washington's carriage road and ending in Berlin, some 20 miles away.
Alf also formed the Nansen Junior Ski Club in 1926, promoting skiing as a healthy recreational outlet for youths aged 8 to 16 - the first such club in the nation. In 1935, he initiated work on "The Big Nansen" - the ski jump which still stands today on the Berlin / Milan line. At 171 ft tall, this jump was the largest in North America for almost 50 years. It was estimated that jumpers could reach speeds of 55 mph and attain distances of up to 270 ft. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first Ski Mass ever held on the North American continent took place the following year at St. Kieran's Church in Berlin. The service included a "blessing of the skis," which was an old European custom familiar to many club members.
The new jump hosted its first nationally significant event in March of 1938 - the Eastern Elimination Contests. This competition facilitated the selection of a ski team to represent the U.S. at the 1940 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Approximately 25,000 spectators were in attendance and the competition was broadcast live on 87 radio stations across the country. The jump went on to later host the U.S. Ski Jumping Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965 and 1972, with the last competitive event taking place in 1985. The last jumps made at the Big Nansen were likely around 1988, before the structure fell into disrepair for 30 years. Prior to the end of this vibrant era of ski jumping in the northeast, the work of Alf Halvorson was acknowledged with his induction into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1968, where four other NSC members are also recognized for their achievements.
Throughout the life of the club, a network of Nordic ski trails were maintained by the club - first located on Cates Hill and then later in the 1960's on the east side of Berlin near Success Loop. In 2006, the land hosting the 40 km trail system was sold by its private owner and the club’s membership dipped well below 100 members. Through the quick work of the Nansen Ski Club board of that time, a new trail system was established at Milan Hill State Park, where the club's trails are located today. The trail system was designed by Olympic cross-country trail designer, John Morton.
In 2011, the Nansen Ski Jump was named as an historical landmark and the club registered as a 501c3 organization. Work continued in building membership, expanding the trail system and raising funds, which led to the construction of a solar-powered, wifi-enabled, timber frame warming hut at the park in 2016. The project was the product of cooperation between the Nansen board, the NH Division of State Parks and residents & businesses of the local community.
Interest in the Big Nansen jump was revived in the mid-2010's by a group called the "Friends of the Big Nansen," after a re-decking of the structure in 2017. Funds for the restoration work were provided by the energy drink company, Red Bull, in the interest of promoting Sarah Hendrickson, an olympic ski jumper in their roster of sponsored athletes. On March 4 of that year, Sarah took one of the first jumps made on the hill in over 30 years, signalling her return to the sport after a knee injury, and the return of “The Sleeping Giant,” which the jump had been known by for years.
Enthusiasm from Sarah's jump led the Friends of the Big Nansen to pursue a full restoration of the site. In particular, Scott Halvorson - grandson of Alf Halvorson, led the charge to pool resources to bring the structure back to form for elite competition. Working in coordination with the Nansen Ski Club, a $250k grant was procured through the Northern Border Regional Commission to restore the jump for competitive use and the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019. Scott's work was acknowledged by USA Nordic, awarding him with their Ptarmigan Award for working to bring the jump back online and for fostering connection with the jumping community in the United States.
At press time, the Nansen Ski Club is set to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first NSC Winter Carnival in January of 2022. Work continues to restore the Big Nansen, despite considerable headwinds introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic and the inherent challenges of such a large, unique project.