Ski Jumping at Suicide Bowl

You’ve probably watched ski jumping on TV, or at the very least gaped at the spandex-clad men and women who have mastered the art of straight-lining it down a ramp and through the air with a pair of cartoonishly-large skis on.

But were you able to hear the actual “whizzing” noise that a ski jumper makes when they fly by at 55 mph? Could you smell the bonfire smoke, the charcoaled hotdogs, the sharp winter air? Did you hear the sounds of cow bells and car horns reverberating against the enormous wooden ramp, or could you only hear the announcer’s voices obscured only slightly by the cheering and cow-belling of the crowd?

In the words of Ishpeming Ski Club Vice President Bob Hendrickson, the atmosphere of ski jumping just doesn’t really translate well to TV. So why not experience it for yourself? And what better place to do it then right here in Marquette County?

The Ishpeming Ski Club was, after all, the first ski jumping club in the country, and therefore lays claim to being the oldest club in the US. And the club’s annual ski jumping event, held each February at Suicide Bowl in Ishpeming is a tradition that’s almost older than Ishpeming itself.

Ski jumping tournament at Suicide Bowl in Ishpeming, Michigan.

 

“Seeing ski jumping live is such a different experience than anything you can see on television,” Hendrickson said. “(In Ishpeming), we have the historical aspect as well — that it’s been happening for 129 years, of course, so you have people coming here on a traditional basis no matter what.”

Ski jumping at night during a tournament at Suicide Bowl ski jumping area in Ishpeming, Michigan.

Ski jumping is considered the original extreme sport, and one that has taken hold in the UP and beyond — a growth that can certainly be traced to the influence of the Ishpeming Ski Club. When it was first founded as the Norden Ski Club in 1887, the club was just a gathering of working-class men (many of them immigrants from Norway, England and Finland) who needed something to occupy themselves when they weren’t working in the mines. What was at its start a simple desire for organized fun outside of work eventually became the National Ski Association, and ultimately the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. If you were ever wondering why the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame is located in the middle of the UP, there’s your reason — because of its ski jumping roots, Ishpeming is considered the birthplace of modern organized skiing.

Now, 130 years later, the sport has earned a place in the Olympics, and countless training and competition facilities have popped up around the country. Yet most will admit that they don’t think much about ski jumping in the four years between each Winter Olympics, which makes events like this (which will be held on January 31st this year) a great time to experience ski jumping on an annual basis, and better yet, without commercial breaks.

However, ski jumping isn’t just about ski jumping — this is the UP after all, and tailgating is an essential part of the ski jumping experience (nearly as essential as the ski jumping itself). That means massive bonfires, an abundance of hot dogs and hot cocoa, and Ishpeming-natives who have been attending this event since they were in the womb.

Ski jumping tournament at Suicide Bowl in Ishpeming, Michigan.

“There are two different things going on at the event — the jumping and then the tailgating and bonfires and festivities, almost like the Winter Carnival atmosphere, you could say,” Hendrickson said, adding that his favorite part of ski jumps is at the very end, when he can stand around a fire and revel at the fact that they pulled off another event (this year will be the 130th year of the Ishpeming Ski Jumps).

“It’s a celebration of winter and getting outside after so many weeks of being inside, you know,” he said. “It’s like a family reunion for a lot of people.”

A “family reunion” that includes tailgating at a ski jumping event that’s gone largely unchanged for 130 years?

You can’t get that from your TV.

 

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-Words by Amanda Monthei