Holiday Destination: Nansen Ski Club

Miles/November 25, 2012

Although the roots of skiing originated in Scandinavia, once immigrants set foot in New Hampshire in 1872, the steep North Eastern hills soon became the place to be for all things on two planks. It was the small town of Berlin where North America’s oldest continuously-operating skiing club was founded under the name Berlin Mills Ski Club, or as some called it, Berlin Falls Club, or as outsiders claimed it to be, the North American Ski Club. Either way, it was North America’s first recreational ski club, and soon to be so much more.

Located in Northern, New Hampshire, Berlin is a small town along the Androscoggin River in Coos County. In 1872, a small group of Scandinavians set their sights on the highest peaks and founded the nation’s oldest ski club which is still in operation today. It was originally called the North American Ski Club (in Norwegian, Skiklubben Nordamerikansk), but later would be renamed the Nansen Ski Club in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, who in 1888 skied across Greenland. It was, however, the first record or organized skiing.

 

Fridtjof Nansen

With homemade trails, the club promoted the virtues of Nordic skiing and old country nationalism. Club meetings were conducted for many years in Norwegian and membership was restricted to male Scandinavians residing in Coos County only.

Long before businessmen in suits and ties got their fingers in the New Hampshire ski resort pie, Scandinavian immigrants in warm woolen layers were playing and competing against one another on these utilitarian apparatuses originally intended for transportation over snow (the oldest ski in existence dates to 2500 BC, pulled out of a peat bog in Sweden). These workers began arriving in Berlin in the 1840s to build the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad. When the logging industry took off there, many chose to stay.” -Theresa Ludwick

As time passed, and Quebec skiing enthusiasts arrived in Berlin to work in the many mills thus Skilubben softened its stance to attract new members and grow the club.

When the question is asked, “Where is the birthplace of skiing in New Hampshire?” a number of respondents raise up proud cries of “Here!” Foremost among them are the aforementioned North Conway, Jackson, Hanover, and Berlin, and indeed, each place has its ski poles firmly planted in the permafrost of New Hampshire skiing lore. Even so, to definitively point to one location as the “birthing room” so to speak, of New Hampshire skiing, is like pointing to where the first snowflake of ski season falls.” -Theresa Ludwick

The club continued to grow rapidly. In 1922, it had reached its peak. It was known nationwide for it’s skiers and other cities would request coaches from Nansen. The club then built a jump where skiers were leaping well past 100 feet. However this small jump quickly became too small for Nansen’s experienced jumpers. Even with an addition to that jump, now allowing skiers to soar as far as 150 feet (an unheard of distance at the time), the jump had yet again been out grown.

Now enter, the Nansen Ski Jump…

Not only did the Nansen Ski Club stake it’s claim in New Hampshire, they put the icing on the cake by adding in quite possibly the tallest ski jump in North America, standing at 171 feet tall. Also known as the “Big Nansen,” the jump was constructed by the National Youth Administration from 1936-1938 and the city of Berlin.

The first jumper was Clarence “Spike” Oleson in 1937 which set off instant rivalries within the town, bringing the 1938 Olympic trials to Berlin. Following that, the city held the United States Ski Jumping National Championships four times.

Although the ski jump closed in 1988, the club still remains to this day.

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