Legend says it all began when Johan Satre emigrated from Norway, moved into the area and was hired as a chauffeur 81 years ago.
In less than a year, Satre's four brothers - Olaf, Ottar, Magnus and Sverre - followed. Norwegians being Norwegians, they wanted to ski jump. It took the Satre brothers only two years to find a place.
"They bought a cabin in the woods and cleared some land for the end run," said George Kiefer, who has helped relay the story to generations of jumpers. "They ran some 2x4 planks from the ground to the roof of the cabin. Then, they skied down the roof to gain momentum before they took off from a jump and landed further down the hill."
The jumpers traveled only 30 to 35 feet, but in 1926 the Salisbury Ski Jumps were born.
"The roof is still there," said Bill Appleyard, who, like Kiefer, has helped run the annual jumping event for many years. "It captured the imagination of people in this neck of the woods who hadn't been exposed to this kind of thing.
"Johan Satre knew how to sell things, and he wanted people to have the pleasure of seeing ski jumping like he had back in Norway. More than 200 people were there to watch the first jump. They got so excited, by the next year the town built a real jump."
But the new ski jump was constructed under one condition.
"The jump had to be removed in the summer," Appleyard said. "The landowners liked to have picnics there, and they didn't want to look at a ski jump while they ate."
In 1928, Salisbury townspeople built an even bigger jump near the site where the Salisbury Invitational and Eastern Ski Jump Championships will be held this weekend. In 1950, the current jump tower - a 65-meter hill that is monstrous compared with the original jumps - was constructed just off Route 44. It has been called Satre Memorial Hill ever since, in honor of the Norwegians who introduced ski jumping there.
The Satres' ski jump was the first to rise in the northwestern Connecticut hills. In the years that followed, three more ski jumps were built in nearby Canaan, two in Salisbury and Sharon, and one in Norfolk.
"We used to get a lot more snow in those days," said Appleyard, who stepped aside this winter after serving as an event volunteer for 34 years. "This was what people did in the winter before they had TVs. They looked forward to finding things to do in the snow. No one had to go far. They just drove their horses and sleighs on the packed snow in the streets. Johan Satre was a real hero."
Today, the Salisbury ski jump is the only one that remains in Connecticut. Ski jumps have all but disappeared in the Northeast, except for towers that are still used in Brattleboro and Fort Sayre, Vt.; Lebanon, Andover and Laconia, N.H.; and Lake Placid, N.Y.
Despite the installation of snowmaking equipment at the Salisbury hill 10 years ago, surface preparations are almost as painstakingly slow as they were eight decades ago. After Thursday's heavy rain, a crew of 20 to 25 volunteers spent the afternoon packing snow in the end run.
"We still truck in snow," said Rory O'Connor, a board member of the Salisbury Winter Sports Association. "We use a corn shoot- the same device used to fill silos - to shoot the snow 200 feet in the air to get it up on the hill. It's a labor-intensive operation."
Zamboni scrapings from the ice rinks at the Hotchkiss and Salisbury schools are trucked in to supplement the snow. In the earliest years of the Salisbury jump, skiers landed on a surface that was almost all ice.
"We got chopped ice from Torrington and Great Barrington," said Kiefer, who has been a volunteer with the winter sports association for 55 years. "We blew the ice in the air to move it around. It was a lot of good times, good fellowship, good competition and a hell of a lot of sweat.
"Two to three weeks before the jumps we looked for snow piled up along snow fences the state installed on the roads so we didn't have to bring in as much ice. The whole idea was to have a hard surface so skiers could skid and stop and not fall and break things."
The U.S. championships were held at the Salisbury hill in 1952. In those early years of competitions at the Satre Memorial jump, crowds of 10,000 weren't uncommon. They watched the likes of Art Devlin, Roy Sherwood, Art Tokle, Richie Parsons, Art Tokle Sr. and Jay Rand, all U.S. Olympians.
"We don't get the crowds we used to," Kiefer said. "Some years it was colder than the dickens, but we held it anyway.
"Today, with TV and everything, there are too many distractions. A crowd of 500 to 600 [today] would be good ... 1,000 Sunday would be marvelous."
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