Chester Park’s Ski Jumps

From Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood, copyright © 2011, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota.

According to the organization’s papers, the Duluth Ski Club was formally organized on November 21, 1905, when club founders—including architect John J. Wangenstein—met at Duluth’s St. Louis Hotel to create a ski club that would consist of mostly Norwegian immigrants, including legendary jumper Ole Feiring. The club held a few early tournaments on a hill in Hunter’s Park, but by 1907 it had acquired land in today’s Chester Park in an area known as Chester Bowl. There they buit a ski jump. In 1908, Feiring set the U. S. record on the hill, jumping 112 feet. The slide blew over three times in the next ten years, and the club disbanded during World War I.

The ski club reorganized in 1922 and in 1924 built “Big Chester,” a 115-foot slide that was the largest in the world at the time. By 1940 the sport was so popular that tournaments were moved to the new WPA facilty in Fond du Lac. More slides were added over the years, including two training hills. In 1969 a 55-meter jump was added, as was a 35-meter hill that would later be named Little Chester. In the early 1970s, Chester Bowl boasted five ski jumps. Over the years, many Olympic ski jumpers trained at Chester Park, including Jim Denney, Greg Swor, and Adrian Watt.

Duluth’s enthusiasm for ski jumping declined dramatically by the 1990s. Efforts have been made to revitalize the ski jumping program, but plans have proved too expensive. The top portion of Big Chester was removed years ago, and in 2011 the lower portions of Big Chester and Little Chester were removed for safety concerns. At the same time, what was left of the 20-meter Rabbit Ears and the 10-meter Bunny Ears training jumps and scoring booths were demolished.

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From Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth, copyright © 2005, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota

Chester Park’s ski jumps were the training grounds for several national champions and members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Team  The first slide at Chester was built by the Duluth Ski Club in 1907, but it blew down three times before World War I, and the club disbanded. It reorganized in 1922 and built a larger slide at upper Chester. In 1924 that slide was replaced by what was then the largest ski jump in the world. By 1940, Chester Park’s parking was insufficient to keep up with the number of spectators who came to watch the sport, and its position didn’t protect enthusiasts from the north wind. The club began searching for a new site. The club next built a slide in Fond du Lac, near Mission Creek and the old Krause brownstone quarry. With labor help from the Work Projects Administration, the slide went up in 1941, and Fond du Lac replaced Chester Park as the scene for national tournaments . The jump at Fond du Lac has since washed away due to erosion (helped by vandalism), but three unused slides still stand atop Chester Park.

More history on the Duluth Ski Club here.: http://www.chesterbowl.org/history/people/historical-timeline/