History of Nansen Ski Club

 

First Documented Organized Skiing

From Ski Coupons website
The first documented evidence of organized skiing occurred in the northern logging and mill town of Berlin, near the Maine border when the Skiklubben Club was formed in 1872, according to club records. Founded by Norwegians, 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.

As time passed, and Quebec skiing enthusiasts arrived in Berlin to work the mills, Skiklubben softened its ethnocentric stance to attract new members. The club eventually changed its name to the Nansen Ski Club, in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, the explorer who crossed Greenland on skis in 1888.

Today, the Nansen Ski Club operates a network of groomed cross-country ski trails, in Berlin [relocated to Milan], which is open to the public, free of charge. Although there were California ski clubs founded well before the original Skiklubben Club, today the Nansen Ski Club has the historical honor of being the oldest, continually operated ski club in the United States.

Schussing A Conundrum
Just Where is the Birthplace of Skiing in America?

By Theresa Ludwick From Heart of New Hampshire

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.

It is much easier (and the route this author has chosen) to consider Mt. Washington Valley, overall, as a nursery of sorts to the pastime that has garnered the distinction as New Hampshire’s official sport. Each area contributed to the state’s early schussing movement and, in its own way, was unique and innovative. Their contributions are extensive, and amount to way more than a hill of beans (make that snow).

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.

By 1882, the now called Nansen Ski Club had been formed (though unsubstantiated claims put the date 10 years earlier), making Berlin home to the oldest ski club in the country. The club’s name honors Fridtjof Nansen, a nineteenth-century Norwegian Arctic explorer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Club members took part in cross-country and ski-jumping activities in Norway Village and later at Paine’s Meadow, where jumpers were competing at Berlin’s annual Winter Carnival as early as 1906. Numerous records were set there in the early years of the sport. In 1922, the Nansen club joined with several other clubs to form the Eastern Ski Association.

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Did You Know?

From The Moffet House and Geneology Center

The Nansen Ski Jump, c.1937, was the site of the tallest steel tower jump east of the Mississippi and where the Olympic Ski jump trials and Eastern State Championships took place. Last jump 1982. Can be seen from Rte 16.

The oldest ski club, still in existence, in the United States began in Berlin in 1875 as a Norwegian ski klubben; later it took the name Nansen Ski Club to honor Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, professor of Oceanography and Zoology at Univ. of Oslo (Norway).

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Nansen Ski club

Nansen Ski Club Article by Poof Tardiff

I have had a few phone calls asking me about the Nansen Ski Club, so I did some research to further my knowledge about it. Here is my story.

The oldest ski club in the United States was established right here in the city of Berlin, and is still in existence today. The Nansen Ski Club has been around for most of Berlin’s significant growth and it also paralleled the growth of skiing in this country. I hope my short history of this local club will enlighten my readers as it did me.

To begin with, the Nansen Ski Club and the “City that trees built” have been together now for 133 years. Though the city is some 48 years older than the ski club, the beginnings of both and their move ahead followed similar paths. Today, they are still virtually synonymous with the skiing industry.

In 1802, two surveyors came to plot the land on which this Northern New Hampshire city would be established. In 1824, Berlin had its first start when William Sessions came up from Gilead, Maine and built its first house, not far from where the Nansen ski trails are today.

In 1852, H Winslow started his sawmill, which attracted immigrants from countries that had areas similar to ours. Just 20 years later, in 1872 a group of young Scandinavians who likened their new home in Berlin to that of their forefathers in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland founded what is now called the Nansen Ski Club. Their first meeting was held in the upstairs hall of the old Berlin Mills Company store. This is now just a parking lot directly across from where the Brown Company house is located. A constitution was adopted which specified that this club was organized to further develop skiing as a whole in this area. It would also develop sportsmanship in its younger members, and function as a social organization.

It also stipulated that only Scandinavians from the section of Berlin called the “Norwegian Village” were eligible to join this club. Wisely though, this ruling soon got amended and anyone could become a member.

In its early days, further plans were discussed by these eager young sportsmen who never envisioned the achievements of their successors. Almost 85 years later, the National Ski Jumping Championships were held here as part of Berlin’s famous winter carnival.

The original name of this club was the Berlin Mills Ski Club. It was also called the Berlin Falls Club. Other names were also brought up, such as Skiklubben and the Fridtjof Nansen Club. Mr. Nansen was a hero for some of this club’s early members. Nansen was a great explorer and the first man ever to cross Greenland on skis. Nansen was the name that finally stood after being voted in at a meeting of its members in the early 1920’s.

During the month of January, 1929, this association was honored when their hero, Dr. Nansen paid his famous visit to Berlin, to honor the club that was named after him. The whole city turned out to welcome this great explorer. There was a grand parade and many other ceremonies held to welcome this organization’s idol. Although Nansen was a symbolic icon for this ski club, the local hero was Alf Halvorson who accomplished so much for them and the sport of skiing in this area.

During its beginnings, the club erected a small jump in the heart of Berlin and held contests among its members, in jumping and cross-country skiing. Back then skis were generally used to get around in the winter months, as there were no plows or other methods of cleaning the streets. It seemed likely that a pair of wooden boards would be the main method of transportation through the fields and snow covered hills. Most of the events were held on the northern end of the Norwegian Village at a place called Paine’s Hill and Paine’s Pasture. This would be in the area of Eleventh and Twelfth Streets today.

The growth of Berlin brought on the growth of the Nansen Ski Club, as more Scandinavians arrived to join it. This club quickly expanded, and took on more tasks. The main recreation of its early period was skiing. With no competition on weekends, the members of this oldest American ski club would walk for many miles through heavy woodlands just to ski. They also remained active in the summer months. During the warm months between snowfalls, they kept busy drawing maps that showed the trails that they were also making. It was these trails they had cut that gave them great winter skiing weekends.

The club continued its rapid expansion up until the year 1922, when it reached its peak, with the participation of many of its members in top flight competition through the North American continent. A great number of these contestants scored a smashing success on the ski slopes of this continent.

By now the fame of the Nansen Ski Club had become nationwide, and other cities began to write to this club and ask for coaches. The ski club now built a new jump and hill on which a maximum leap of some 125 feet could be achieved.

In 1917, Halvorson, who was only eighteen, was elected president of this club. Regarded as a good skier in both jumping and cross-country, he was looked upon by other club members young and old, as a force to promote the interests of this institution, mainly skiing.

During his years with the club, Halvorson pushed to boost both the city of Berlin and the Nansen Ski Club. By the late 1950’s, all of his efforts had paid off.

After the club had reached its peak, the members suddenly became aware of the fact that their hill was again too small for experienced jumpers, so another remedy was created. In 1927, the hill was enlarged and jumpers could now soar a distance of 150 feet. This was an earth shaking distance for this time.

After eight years of great meets in Berlin, marked by experimental successes and failures, the “Big Nansen” was about to be built on the Berlin-Milan road. It was ready for use by the winter of 1938.

By the late 1950’s, the Nansen Ski Club, founded amid humble beginnings, had grown to a point where it became an integral part of this city’s life. It was also a valuable contributor to its growth as the industrial and resort metropolis of New Hampshire’s famed North Country.

This club can point proudly to the fact that many jumping records were set, equaled, or broken on its own jumping course. The eastern jumping record tumbled in 1948, when Norway’s Ernest Knudsen soared 255 feet. In 1952, this record was shattered by Charles Tremblay of Lebanon, New Hampshire, when he hit a distance of 256 feet.

In 1960, the Winter Olympics were awarded to California, and the club was confident that the state of New Hampshire could possibly have them in later years.

These reasons were well founded, as the Berlin club argued that it had the accommodations to put on such an event. Such nearby places as Pinkham Notch, Franconia Notch, and the Conways, in the heart of the “White Mountains”, would be willing to add their facilities to Berlin’s famous jump. This would provide the needed area to hold such an event. For political and other reasons, this never did materialize. What a boost to the local economy this would have been!

Today, the Nansen Ski Club, although not quite as active as its earlier years, is still in existence, maintaining its great cross-country skiing trails next to Berlin’s East Milan River Road. I am sure that the rich history of the Nansen Ski Club has many more interesting stories. These were just a few.

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Nansen Ski Jump

From Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce website.

Other than its socioeconomic forest-based heritage, Berlin is probably best known for its major contribution to the development of skiing in this country. The use of skis by newly arriving Scandinavians was at first utilitarian, being a means of winter travel around the community. In time, cross-country ski racing became popular and Berlin became known as the “Cradle of Nordic Skiing” in America. The Nansen Ski Club, which is named in honor of arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, was founded in 1872 as the Ski Klubbin. Today, it remains the oldest continuously organized ski club in the United States.

Starting in the 1890’s, skiers used a small hill in Norwegian Village to practice and perform their jumps. Then, in 1936, a new jump was constructed here at this site thanks to a cooperative effort between the Nansen Ski Club and the City of Berlin. This 80 meter jump has a 171.5 foot tower, a 225 foot vertical drop, and a descent angle of approximately 37.5 degrees. For almost fifty gears this was the largest ski jump in the eastern United States and the foremost jump in the country. Furthermore, this was the site of most all major championship ski jumping competitions, as well as many Olympic tryouts. Several famous ski jumpers were competitors here–including a host of Berlinites who went on to compete in the Olympics.

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Inactive Jump

From Ski Jumping in the Eastern US website

The huge ski slide north of Berlin NH (right) was for decades the tallest artificial ski jump tower in North America, and hosted many top notch events. The Nansen Ski Club in Berlin remains active in cross country skiing but has not held a ski jumping competition or maintained a junior jumping program for several years. The facility has fallen into disrepair, but one hears whispers about reopening this famous jump.

Nansen Ski Jump

From Old New Hampshire Online Magazine

The Scandinavians brought their love of winter sports to Berlin and as early as 1872 and started the Nansen Ski Club. In 1906, the Nansen Ski Club built a ski jump in Paine’s Meadow. The Ski Club remains to this day, the oldest ski club in the country and helped popularize both cross country skiing and Nordic ski jumping.

With help from the city of Berlin and the National Youth Administration, construction began in 1936 of a 171-foot ski jump, the largest ski jump of its kind. The Nansen Ski Jump remained the largest in the east for over 50 years, and was the site of major championship ski jumping competitions. In 1938, the first Olympic Trials were held on the big Nansen ski jump. Many famous skiers competed on the jump and several Berliners went on to compete in the Olympics. The Jump was closed down in 1988.

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