Most of the skiing that people enjoy in the Northwest is of the downhill and cross country varieties. But there’s another form of skiing that helped to build the sport’s popularity in the Northwest, even though most people watched rather than participated.
A Northwest ski historian has written a new book about how Scandinavian immigrants to the Northwest, particularly Norwegians, brought with them their fondness for the sport they enjoyed back home.
“For the first 30-to-40 years of our skiing history, ski jumping was, by far, the most popular version of the sport.”
John Lundin is the author of a new book, “Ski Jumping in Washington State: A Nordic Tradition.”
“There’s a saying that where three Norwegians get together, they build a ski jump and hold a competition. That pretty much followed through here. They brought their Old World passion for the sport. It was a way for them to continue their ethnic ties to the old country and introduce a new sport to the United States," he said.
Lundin writes about the birth of the sport in the Evergreen State and the characters and rivalries that fueled it. He tells us the first competition in Washington was held at Spokane’s Browne Mountain in 1913. And that’s just part of Spokane’s ski jumping history. The Spokane Ski Club hosted several tournaments during the 1930s at the current site of Wandermere Golf Course in north Spokane. [Read more about a history of Wandermere here and hear author Ty Brown here.]
“Although they experienced low-snow conditions on all those. They had to go to great lengths to import snow by train and truck that they had to use to fill in the lack of natural snow," he said.
The Spokane Ski Club also built facilities for ski jumping at Mt. Spokane and held competitions there in the late '40s and early '50s.
“Keep in mind that ski jumping had a huge following in the '20s, '30s and '40s. Local newspapers not only covered all the ski jumping events in Washington, they covered the ski jumping events up and down the West Coast, throughout the country and in Europe," Lundin said.
There was a four-stop circuit that attracted a wide range of competitors, from the elite jumpers on down. They went to Cle Elum, Washington, Beaver Lake at Snoqualmie Pass, Mount Hood in Oregon and a place that became the region’s ski jump Mecca for years: Leavenworth in central Washington.
“That had the advantage of, you could ride the Great Northern train from either Spokane or Seattle and the ski jump was right outside of town so there was no long hike to get there. They hosted a number of national and international tournaments all the way until 1978," he said.
Lundin says you can still see pieces of that history at Leavenworth, where there’s a community ski area.
“The remnants of Bakke Hill Ski Jump is still visible from the little ski area, as is the CCC lodge that was built in 1937 by the federal government," he said.
Lundin’s book will eventually be paired with online and in-person exhibits at the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum at Snoqualmie Pass and the National Nordic Museum in Seattle. Those exhibits are scheduled to open in April.