John F. Russell: Skier thrilled many |

John F. Russell: Skier thrilled many

Sports commentary

I wish that I could have had the chance to meet Henry Christian Hall.

He’s the type of guy that I would like to have standing in front of or behind me if I had to wait in one of those really long lines. If I was lucky enough to strike up a conversation with him I have no doubt he could entertain me.

Hall was a pioneer in the sport of ski jumping.

He won numerous titles in amateur and professional events back in the early 1900s. He was the first person in the world to jump more than 200 feet on skis. But more importantly, Hall amazed thousands of people in Steamboat Springs. Forget today’s thrill seekers. What Hall did was truly amazing.

There were no helmets, no breakaway bindings and in most cases no ambulances. That’s why the people of Steamboat would leave their cozy homes in the middle of a blizzard to line the steep pitched slopes of Howelsen Hill to watch ski jumpers in Hall’s time.

Hall would climb to the top of a hill where he would strap on a pair of skis and rocket off a jump that nobody ever tested, and fewer people would consider safe. The spectators wanted to see a man fly through the air for 200 feet before landing on his feet and skiing away. Of course, they had never seen it before. No one had ever done it before Hall, and most sane people would never attempt it. But they would watch.

Unfortunately, the last time Hall was in Steamboat Springs, I was too busy chasing after the girls in my high school algebra class to be concerned with things like ski jumping. It was 1982.

Hall was in his 90s then, and the times had changed. Ski jumping in Steamboat Springs wasn’t the draw it once was. I’m guessing that people were more interested in things like MTV and Atari. But that didn’t stop Hall from rekindling our town’s love of Nordic ski jumping or amazing the crowds, even then.

Hall strapped on a pair of skis and streaked down the landing hill of the large hill. He would have jumped given the chance, but the organizers pulled the plug on any attempt to launch off the ski jumping hill. They didn’t want him to get hurt. Like I said, the times had changed.

In a world of lawsuits, I guess it was the right choice. But what a thrill it would have been to see Hall take flight one more time. In another time, when ski jumps were made out of wooden beams that bent and groaned in the wind, Hall might have gotten another chance. But in today’s sterile and safe world, thrills are not as easy to come by.

This month, Hall will be one of five people inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboarding Hall of Fame. One more amazing feat for a man who thrilled a generation.

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