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Joyce Endee

GMHPS ceremony honors the life of world famous ski jumper

A supportive ski jumping community stood in awe as members of the Gunstock Mountain Historic Preservation Society unveiled a memorial plaque in honor of the late, record breaking ski jumper Torger Tokle last Wednesday. (Lauren Tiner) (click for larger version)
March 16, 2011
Last Wednesday evening marked a frigid yet emotional night for members of the Gunstock Mountain Historic Preservation Society, who unveiled a plaque in honor of Torger Tokle, a world famous ski jumper close to Gilford's heart.

During a rededication ceremony, the GMHPS, along with Gunstock employees, Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society members, and supporters of ski history and the future of ski jumping, stood in front of the jump complex at Gunstock and admired the memorial.

The late Tokle's nephew, Kenneth Tokle, and his wife Nina, the guests of honor last Wednesday, also graced the unveiling of the plaque, speechless over the ceremony.

"This is a special night," said Greg Goddard, General Manager of Gunstock and secretary of the GMHPS. "While this is a recently formed society, we are an ambitious group. We also have some ambitious projects."

Goddard said thanks to generous grants, the process of renovating historic ski jumps at Gunstock has become a close reality.

A new shiny plaque will stand tall in front of the Torger Tokle memorial ski jump, the now 70-meter historical ski jump at Gunstock part of an ongoing renovation project. (Lauren Tiner) (click for larger version)
President of the GMHPS Carol Anderson also thanked Penny Pitou of Gilford, a two-time Olympic ski medalist, whose donation during the holidays made the unveiling of the plaque possible.

A momentous ceremony and unveiling of a shiny new plaque in front of the Torger Tokle Memorial Jump, also known as Gunstock's 70 meter jump, kicked off the start of the society's jump complex restoration project.

While the 70 meter ski jump is first on the list to be restored, all four historic jumps located at the complex will be restored for historic purposes and also for functional, competitive purposes to keep the spirit and tradition of ski jumping alive at Gunstock.

The 70 meter jump was the first of the four jumps to be built on Gunstock grounds, completed in 1936. The first ski jump event at Gunstock was held in February of 1937, and brought in more than 10,000 spectators. The remaining jumps were completed in 1938 and the early 1940s, while the last championship was held at Gunstock in 2004.

Active members of the ski jumping community, including Dan Warner, a competitive ski jumper in his youth, also graced the event. Anderson said Warner has worked alongside the society, and helped members understand what it will take to bring the jumps back to speed, and to compete once again at a national level.

Bob Arnold, founding member and director of the GMHPS, also reflected on his grandfather, Fritzie Baer, a firsthand witness of Tokle's greatness and impressive jumping skills. Baer was the General Manager of Gunstock (formerly known as Belknap Mountain Recreation Area) from 1950-1959. Arnold referred to the ski jump competitions as nothing short of Winter X Games today, stating that Tokle's name was as recognized as Shawn White or Hannah Kearney's name.

According to Anderson, Tokle won just about every ski jump competition he entered. The society is most proud of Tokle's accomplishments right in Gilford, when he set the hill record on the 60 meter jump (now the 70 meter jump) in 1941.

Years before, Tokle had set several records on the 60 meter jump at Gunstock, managing to break his own records along the way. He moved to the U.S. in 1939 at the age of 19, and jumped in his first competition just 24 hours later. In the same year, Tokle jumped at Gunstock and set the hill record. In 1940, he broke his own record and set a new hill record at Gunstock.

To the amazement of ski jump enthusiasts across the nation, Tokle broke his own record again in 1941, flying 251 feet to the bottom of the steep hill a record untouched for 35 years, until the 60 meter ski jump became the 70 meter jump.

In 1942, Tokle jumped at Gunstock once again, yet he came in second place. Anderson said he had reason to be distracted by the prospect of fighting in WWII. He had also tried to retrieve his younger brother Arthur from Norway and bring him to the U.S., yet with a progressing war, this seemed impossible.

Tokle decided to become a U.S. citizen and joined the army, rising to the rank of Sergeant. He became a member of the 10th Mountain Division and found himself in Italy, fighting in the Italian Campaign. The battle is known as one of the most brilliantly executed, yet deadly battles of WWII, lasting days upon days.

By the time the battle ended, only a small percentage of Tokle's platoon remained unscathed. Tokle, only 25 at the time, tragically lost his life in WWII. His body was buried in Italy, and later returned to his native land of Norway, finally in eternal rest.

A reception at the base lodge of Gunstock followed the unveiling of the plaque, with refreshments, appetizers, and an impressive display of Gunstock ski history along the walls.

Martin Lord Osman
Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Varney Smith
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