Short-lived, but long remembered, Ayer ski jump excited locals in 1936
The Ayer Ski Hill, touted as the “largest trestle ski jump in the United States,” lasted only three months, from January to March of 1936. The history of the jump is sketched in Dick Kenyon’s Five Hills: A Research Report. File Photo
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AYER — To paraphrase novelist Cormac McCarthy, the Ayer Ski Hill is now myth, legend, dust. But, oh, what might have been.
The ski hill had a short life — lasting about three months, from January to March of 1936 — but, for a time, it was the “largest trestle ski jump in the United States,” according to a flier advertising its opening.
A group of ski jumpers decided that there weren’t enough places in Southern New England for winter athletes. After some searching, they chose Ayer’s Pingry Hill for a ski jump, wrote Dick Kenyon, in his Five Hills: A Research Report, on file at Ayer Public Library.
The ski jump cost about $20,000, and the parking area could hold 5,000 cars, Kenyon wrote. It officially opened on Jan. 25, 1936. Some specifics of the jump: a 75-foot-tall standing platform, 175 feet from landing to level, a distance of 709 feet from takeoff to level, a 409-foot takeoff. Also, the jump itself was detachable, if you wanted to go longer.
And to land safely, you had to jump straight up into the air at a distance of 125 feet, the advertisement said.
There were 200 acres of rolling hills for tobogganing, bobsledding, snowshoeing and skiing. And there was a call to action from the advertisement: “Make this place your winter playground.”
Kenyon wrote that Anton Lekang, a ski jumper enshrined in the United States National Ski Hall of Fame and Museum, had the inaugural run, but he didn’t have enough speed, and so he bounced on the landing trestle, fell, and then slid down the rest of the ramp before hitting the ground.
He broke his ankle.
The day after its opening, Jan. 26, Clarence Olsen jumped 145 feet, Kenyon wrote. In February, people would pile under the lights to watch ski jumpers soar into the night sky.
But there wasn’t much snow that winter, according to Kenyon. Not long after Ayer Ski Hill opened, it closed. And, in July of that year, a severe storm destroyed the in-run portion of the trestle.
Now, in 2014, nothing remains of the Ayer ski jump, with houses now dotting Pingry Hill, and a lot of the people who would have seen and experienced it are now deceased, taking their memories with them.
But that’s not the case with Ernie Blasetti.
Blasetti, 98, was 15 when the Ayer Ski Hill opened.
“I remember when they built it,” he said. “I used to go down there every night.”
At the time, he worked at the gas station on Route 2A, he said, and he and his friends would walk down to the hill.
When the hill opened, skiing “was a new venture,” he said.
“They didn’t ski back then as they do today,” he said.
No one was surprised that it closed, though, he said. Since it was designed for ski jumping, only a few people would utilize it, he said.
Still, the Ayer Ski Hill remains unique even today.
“There isn’t anything like (the Ayer Ski Hill) now,” he said.
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