THE VIEW from the top of the Kennett ski jump now features a widened landing area and larger runout area as well as a new shed to the right at the bottom. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 28, 2011ALBANY — If there was ever something in need of a haircut, it was without a doubt the Kennett ski jump.
The jump, which is located along the Kancamagus Highway, became property of the high school three years ago and this year, the Eagles will be playing host to the Ski Jumping State Meet, which will take place in mid-February.
In order to host the state meet, it was obvious work had to be done in order to bring the jump up to the conditions needed to allow lots of spectators, computers for judges and plenty of light.
And that's when Andy Grigel, the head of facilities for the Conway School District, went to work.
"At the time we didn't really have a major plan for this," Grigel said.
"Then I walked into Andy's office and said I wanted a shed," Kennett Athletic Director Kerry Brady said.
"Then one thing led to another and then we're in here giving the facility a serious facelift," Grigel said. "The whole task of upgrading this seemed kind of overwhelming.
"I wasn't totally convinced when we started that we'd even finish," Grigel said. "But it came together really well."
Brady originally came to Grigel looking for a shed for the base of the area and now the jump has a completely new look, which will give the Eagle fliers a fantastic top-notch facility to call home.
"The biggest concern with the jump was the sides running in," Grigel said. "So we cut everything back to the dimensions it was in the 1960s."
That change involved cutting back about 45 feet of brush on the left side of the hill (looking up from the bottom).
Grigel noted that the significant brush removal on the side of the large jump (on the left side if looking up from the bottom) as well as the removal of growth between the larger jump and the smaller jump on the right side will open up the lines of sight for jumpers on both hills, but will also benefit those who don't make their way up the hill.
"It's significant from a jumping standpoint and a spectator standpoint," Grigel said. "It's going to be great from a spectator's viewpoint.
"It's not going to be that tunnel vision," Grigel said of the view from the top. "You're going to be able to look at where you're going.
"It absolutely changes the dynamic of this jump," he continued. "We wanted some shock value here and the only way we were going to achieve that is getting radical with the haircut."
Additional elements were also needed to upgrade the jump to the standards needed to host the state meet. A building was needed for the judges at the base of the hill. The building needed to have power for laptops so the judges can put the scores in. There also needed to be a sound system and some more lighting installed.
The shed was installed at the base of the large jump with a view straight up the hill toward the jump and the midpoint building, where other judges can be located. That building, which was already in place, was upgraded to include power as well.
The new building at the bottom of the hill was actually started last winter at Kennett Middle School and was then moved on to the site when the weather allowed.
"That prepared us to come here and really give the ski jump a serious haircut," Grigel said.
Grigel said they then encountered a large erosion problem on the smaller jump, which had to be filled in and then seeded. The takeoffs on both jumps were also reconstructed.
"The emphasis was on the larger jump, but it was a bonus to get the smaller jump renovated," Grigel said.
The stairs that make their way up along the right side of the small jump and then up between the two jumps were all filled in.
"But the single biggest priority was getting this thing cut back to its original size," Grigel said. "And that's from a safety standpoint."
Grigel noted that the cutback of the brush is also significantly notable for jumpers standing at the starting gate.
"You can't really appreciated this until you're standing up there in their shoes," Grigel said. "The potential to get hurt was huge."
The runout area at the base of the jump was also expanded, giving skiers a little more room to stop when they get to the bottom.
It was also determined that additional lights would certainly be needed to allow for better visibility for the jumpers and the spectators and Brady recalled that the Conway Recreation Department had donated some old lights to the school district.
"At the time they were given to us, we didn't really have a major plan for them," Grigel said.
He compared the old lighting system to candlelight in comparison to the new system, which has incorporated seven new lights into the jump.
The new shed at the bottom of the hill has three lights on top of it to help light the landing area. There's also two new lights on top of the renovated midway hut, one just above the midway hut and one at the top of the jump.
And those are all in addition to the original lighting, which is still in tact. The original lighting was also opened up a bit, with the removal of all the brush.
"You're going to be able to see what you're jumping into," Grigel said. "You won't be jumping into the abyss anymore."
Grigel and Brady did get a chance to view what the jump would look like when the lights are on, as they headed out early one morning and tested out the lights. They both came away impressed with how bright the hill is.
"The only way you can put this in perspective is to look at it under the conditions it's going to be used in," Grigel said. "It is unbelievable to view this now at night."
He noted that it was likely that not only would the jumpers be able to see the lights of Mount Cranmore from the top of the jump, but skiers on Cranmore would likely be able to see the jump as well.
What impressed Grigel the most is that the improvements were all made to keep the jump's historical nature intact.
"This is a rarity in the state, but I look at this as historical," Grigel said. "It's been here for a long time and there's a lot of history here."
Grigel had four other staff members helping out over the course of a few months, working as the weather allowed to get the jump in its best shape possible.
They also got three large tree stumps to use as a podium for medal winners and constructed a sign on a two-inch thick slab of wood. The sign features the Kennett logo, a ski jumper and an outline of the state.
"It is a work of art that I think they're going to need to protect," Grigel said. "It really came out killer and its in keeping with the old rustic look of the ski jump."
The sign is able to be taken off its posts for safe storage during times when meets aren't going on.
When Concord High School, which traditionally hosts the state ski jumping championships at Proctor Academy, decided it wasn't going to host this year, Brady talked to former Kennett ski coach Chuck Broomhall, who still serves on the NHIAA Ski Committee and expressed a willingness to host, once the improvements were made.
"I told Chuck we'd host it and he went down there with the presentation," Brady said.
"They had to be convinced that this transformation had been what it had been," Grigel said.
Another feature of the improved ski jump hill is the addition of measuring markers on the hill. These will be visible from the bottom and will also make judging the distances much easier for the distance judges on the hill.
All told, there's been quite an improvement at the jump, one that anyone who has witnessed a meet or jumped at the site will notice right away.
"When we first arrived, I was amazed that they could host a meet here, never mind host a state meet," Grigel said.
Now the Eagles will be competing for the state title on their own jump, in front of their own fans. And it will be a treat for everyone involved.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126