DOWN THE CHUTE: In what unquestionably was one of the more adrenaline-racing branding feats this year, Red Bull-sponsored Sarah Hendrickson bulleted down a historic ski jump Saturday just a few months after the company helped restore it.
The 22-year-old’s ascent was the first to have occurred at the Nansen Ski Jump in 32 years in Milan, N.H., and subsequently its last. The state hopes Saturday’s finale will continue to attract the curious and inadvertently give the local economy a lift. The Coos County town’s population hovers around 1,300 people. After Red Bull executives caught word of the project, they turned to Hendrickson who has family ties in the Plymouth area.
So what’s it like to race down a 70-meter ski jump at 45 mph on a two-degree Saturday morning?
“It was awesome. Obviously when it was over, it was just a great atmosphere and a great community that came out to watch.” said Hendrickson Monday from her grandmother’s home in Plymouth, N.H. The Salt Lake resident ships out to Oslo Thursday for this weekend’s Holmenkollen Ski Festival, this year’s final World Cup stop.
Built in 1936, the 171-foot steel-framed structure with wooden planks was once the tallest ski jump in the U.S. More than 25,000 people reportedly turned out for the sport’s 1938 Olympic trials there. Hendrickson, a former world champ and the first woman to jump in an Olympic skiing event, was the first person in 32 years to lift off from the Nansen Ski Jump. “The state wants to have it as a landmark and put in a little museum so hopefully people will create some memories there looking at the ski jump and read about it.”
En route to the top, Hendrickson wore her U.S. Ski Team-sponsored L.L. Bean down jacket. A Nike-sponsored athlete for five years, she hadn’t received any special recognition from the company for Saturday’s event. “Not that I know of,” she said.
Fifteen months out from her fourth ACL-related injury, Hendrickson kept her focus before blasting down the chute. “I just try not to overcomplicate things. It’s similar to when you’re jumping in a big competition. You don’t want to think about all the small details, just focusing on what your coach has been telling you and try to simplify things so you don’t overwhelm yourself,” she said.
Last week’s unexpected deep thaw in the White Mountains left the ski jump pretty ragged — so much so that a local contractor offered workers and trucks to haul in snow from the local airport. The unseasonable weather, ongoing threat of high winds and poor snow conditions also meant that Red Bull never announced publicly when the jump would happen.
Hendrickson showed up at 6:30 a.m. and sat tight while 16-year-old Anna Hoffman did a landing hill run first. “There’s the jump part where you fly through the air and then you land on the snow. So Anna just went down the snow part — no jump — to make sure it was smooth, not too bumpy or dangerous.” Hendrickson explained. “There was a junior jumper there to test the speed. Obviously, I’ve had a rough history with injuries. Since she is a lower ability than me, we knew she wouldn’t jump too far or get hurt. Then we decided I was ready to go up and everything was good.”
As for what she would tell all the I-could-never-do-that thinkers, she said after a quiet laugh, “Everything starts small. I’ve been doing this for 15 years now so it’s kind of just another day. For anyone who wants to try something new, you just start small and hard work can get you really far. It’s not natural talent, money or anything. It’s working hard, being persistent. That will get you really far in life.”