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Westby's ski jumping tournament to celebrate 100 years

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Snowflake Ski Club volunteers are gearing up to celebrate the 100th annual ski jumping tournament, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3 and 4.

The celebration starts with a Snowflake reunion open to the public at the Westby Rod & Gun Club building in Timber Coulee (County Hwy. P, Westby), Thursday, Feb. 2, beginning at 5:30 p.m. A chili and soup dinner will be served for donations from 5:30 until 7 p.m. A program will be held from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Bob Bland will be the guest speaker and the club will be presenting a 2023 JumpMaster award.

Kathy Frydenlund, a volunteer with the Snowflake Ski Club, said anyone who has been involved with the ski jump is invited to attend the reunion. “We have a Facebook event going and hope to have current and past royalty, board members, volunteers and ski jumpers.”

Friday, Feb. 3, features a kick-off breakfast at Borgen’s Café, 109 S Main St., Westby, from 8 to 10 a.m. Breakfast is free for ski jumpers and anyone who is wearing a Gold Button.

Opening ceremonies for the Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament US Cup on the 90-meter hill start at 6:30 p.m., followed by the competition at 7 p.m. There will be live music by High Mileage at the Rod & Gun building after the competition.

The Snowflake Junior Ski Jumping Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 4, begins with the opening ceremonies at 9:45 a.m. The competition is set to start at 10 a.m. The order for the jumps is as follows: the 5-, 10-, 20- and 40-meter hills.

Opening ceremonies for the Big Hill Tournament on Saturday are at 12:30 p.m., followed by the competition at 1 p.m. The long standing jump will be held after the competition. Athletes who participate in the long standing jump determine their own starting position at the top of the jump before going down the “inrun.” The athlete who jumps the greatest distance receives money collected from spectators by Snowflake Royalty.

Following Saturday’s competition, there will be live music by Blue Collar 40 at the Rod & Gun Club building.

The Westby Area Historical Society will have a Historie Hytte (history cabin) display on the grounds both days. The display will include club and ski jumping tournament history, along with memorabilia. The club is 100 years old in 2023; however, there were a few years without a tournament.

The 2023 Westby Snowflake Royalty are Queen Mackenzie Morey, daughter of Janine and Troy Morey, and Madilynn Sloan, daughter of Jenna and Randy Kuderer. The club’s ambassadors will be on hand greeting spectators and ski jumpers during the tournament.

Food and beverages are available on the grounds during the tournament.

The Snowflake Ski Jumping Complex is located at E7940 County Road P, Westby.

Admission buttons

This year there are four general admission buttons celebrating 100 years of volunteers. The buttons recognize P.T. Bland, Lyle Swenson, Howard Johnson and all volunteers.

Buttons are $15 prior to the tournament and $20 at the gate. Children 12 and under are free. Group rates are available. Button sale locations are posted on both the club’s website, snowflakeskiclub.com and Facebook page, snowflakeskiclub.

There are limited edition collector Gold Buttons this year that cost $100 in honor of the 100th anniversary. “This is a fundraiser to support the club and keep the equipment and facilities running, and to promote and continue the sport of ski jumping,” Frydenlund said. Gold Buttons can be purchased at the clubhouse in Timber Coulee or by contacting the club by Facebook message.

There is free military/veterans admission; more information can be found on the ski club’s website.

Fundraising

The club is soliciting for 100 $100 donations to raise funds to give cash prizes to the winning ski jumpers at the event. Frydenlund said the club is doing this to attract ski jumpers who might not otherwise consider coming to the jump, as there are many competing ski jumping events at the same time and travel from abroad is expensive.

“We have heard that at least three skiers are coming from Norway,” Frydenlund said. “We expect 20 to 30 skiers from across the U.S. to come as well.”

If people want to donate $100 they can do so at any time by dropping off the money at Daily Brew Co. in Westby.

The club has established the Friends of Snowflake Ski Jumping, Inc. 501© 3 organization, a nonprofit which raises funds to promote and continue the sport of ski jumping in the area. Currently they are raising money to put plastic on the 10- and 20-meter junior jumps, so that their young athletes can train year round. More than 20 young athletes are learning to ski jump under the guidance of several coaches.

A brief history

According to the book, “Vernon County Heritage,” in 1922 a handful of Westby businessmen attended a ski jumping tournament in Chippewa Falls. Most of them were there to watch a local ski jumper by the name of Carol Gronland.

The book notes, “Shortly after, N.O. Nelson was informed that Carl Gronland was invited to ski for the newly-formed club in La Crosse. After some discussion it was agreed that Carl should ski for the soon-to-be Westby Ski Club. That very evening, seven or eight locals met at Villand’s store after business hours to discuss how they could build a ski jumping hill. The chosen site was on the Martin Holte property outside of Westby. N.O. Nelson was put in charge of the work crew, designing the scaffold and acting as foreman during construction.”

The first ski jumping tournament was held Feb. 8, 1923, with more than 1,800 people attending. The club’s charter members included: J.T. Hage, Earl Jefson, Martin Oium, O. Villand, H. Nerison, Gunnar Mikkelson, Mangus Mikkelson, Carl Gronvold, Martin Holte and N.O. Nelson.

According to a Feb. 14, 1923 Vernon County Censor article, 15 “riders” participated in that first tournament. The article noted, “… Westby’s ski tournament Thursday afternoon was heralded as a great success. All the riders escaped without injury. Carl Gronland of Westby placed fifth in the event.”

According to a Westby Times article dated Feb. 3, 2011, Oscar Villand was the president in 1923. From 1930-1939 no tournaments were held. In 1946 Howard Johnson reactivated the ski club and in 1947 Howard Johnson served as president. The current ski club president is Tom Ellefson.

According to “Vernon County Heritage,” six tournaments were held successfully until 1930, when the club disbanded due to the Depression. In 1939, the tournament was resurrected with more 2,000 spectators taking in the event. The next tournament was held in 1946, and the club was reactivated under the direction of Howard Johnson.

A Broadcaster-Censor article dated Jan. 24, 1957, noted that the 1947 ski jumping tournament was held at Seas Branch. The article also notes, “A 50-foot scaffold, the ‘best in this section of the Mid-West’ was built in Timber Coulee for the 1948 tournament…”

According to an article in the Jan. 31, 2022 The Country Today, “After hosting tournaments on three different hills, each progressively larger, the largest and more modern jump in use today was constructed in 1960 with the first tournament held in late January 1961.” The article also notes that the club was renamed the Snowflake Ski Club in 1925.

In the fall of 1993 and winter of 1994, three new hills – 10K, 20K and 40K – were constructed in Timber Coulee. According to a Dec. 16, 1993 Vernon County Broadcaster article, Dr. P.T. Bland, who at the time was chair of the United States Ski Association Engineering Committee, designed the three hills and served as construction supervisor for the project.

Junior and senior club members worked on the hills clearing brush, surveying and moving dirt. The article noted, “The new hills reflect the contemporary design of European slides, plus some innovations Dr. Bland has been developing in the last five years.

“These three hills, together with the 65K and 115K hills will give the Snowflake Ski Club a set of five hills that will be the equal of any hills in the world.”

The article pointed out that the new hills are natural, meaning they have no scaffold and everything is built into the hill. “Young riders will be able to move up to larger hills at their own pace without having to drive to sites throughout the Midwest.”

Since about 2010 the club has been holding a Friday evening competition under the lights, along with the Saturday event. Previously, the tournament was held Saturday and Sunday.

A nine-hole, par-three golf course was constructed at the base of its five hills in 1989.

According to the club’s website, it’s one of the two remaining “all volunteer” large hill ski jumping clubs in the Western hemisphere.

Base jumping is dangerous enough, so why not do it on the edge of a glacier which could collapse at any moment? Buzz60’s Tony Spitz has the details.

Angela Cina can be reached at angie.cina@lee.net.

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Vernon County Times editor

Angie Cina is editor of the Vernon County Times. Contact her at 608-637-5616.

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