Dakota Datebook

Jumping Plains

Friday, November 10, 2006

They were men who could fly a hundred feet across the plains of North Dakota, and all they needed to do so was a steep slope, a proper landing place, and their two wooden skis. Through the 1920s and 30s, these ski jumpers were North Dakota heroes, and many of them helped North Dakota, a state with no mountains and few hills, turn into a ski jumping center. Determined to continue participating in the sport they loved, many of these men built ski jumping slides throughout the state, and on this day in 1932, one of the most prominent jumpers of North Dakota was in the process of building one in Minot.

Casper Oimoen came to the United States from Norway at the age of 17 believing the United States would be the right environment to pursue his career in ski jumping. What he saw as he entered North Dakota, however, horrified him. The broad, flat, treeless plains of the Red River Valley surrounded him, and Casper only rested when his traveling partner reassured him that his future home, Minot, had more to offer. It did, and for 14 years, Oimoen traveled between Minot, Minneapolis, and Chicago competing in local, national, and international ski jumping tournaments, until his wife, Ruth, became pregnant in 1931. Then, the couple settled in Minot permanently.

Now that he was permanently in Minot, the repeating National Champion and future two-time Olympian set about establishing ski jumping as a major sport in Minot. Casper helped found the Minot Winter Sports Club with the goal to “create, develop, encourage, and maintain interest in all winter sports.” With their club founded, Casper and the five other men who formed the first team of Minot Ski Riders set about building a ski jumping slide. With the financial help of Minot Chamber of Commerce, the Minot Winter Sports Club began building the 225-foot-long slide on the highest bluff in Minot, now commonly known as North Hill. The slide was completed and dedicated on January 1, 1933.

The dedication was no small affair. Prior to its completion, Casper had brought fellow Olympians and ski jumping champions from across the country to Minot as a possible site for tournaments sanctioned by the Central Ski Association, a division of the National Ski Association. Many of those visitors returned to compete at the dedication tournament held on February 5.

When the tournament began, it appeared to be an instant success. A crowd of 4,000 gathered on the terraced spectators’ hill to watch the jumpers perform their leaps. Among the athletes were Casper and his Olympian teammates Guttorm Paulsen of Chicago and Pedar Falstad of Devil’s Lake. The much-anticipated event was cut short, however, when a north wind brought in an unexpected blizzard. The tournament was postponed until March 5, but the Minot Winter Sports Club promised even more noted athletes, including the entire 1932 Olympic team.

When the tournament was finally held, it was a great success. Thirty-five contestants showed to participate, and Casper, the home-town hero won the first Minot tournament. Paulsen finished second, and the Devil’s Lake favorite, Falstad finished third. All three would compete again the next week when Devil’s Lake held their own Central Ski Association tournament.

The Minot slide remained in operation through the next few years. The “riders of the wooden wings” could build their imitation hills for jumping the plains of North Dakota, but they could not divert the harsh North Dakota weather. According to Casper’s daughter, Sonja Oimoen Stalions, “Winter blizzards became co-conspirators with wind to thwart the optimism which once characterized Minot’s early-day ski sport spirit.” The slide eventually blew down and the lumber was reused for other recreation programs, and no more did spectators gather to watch the “riders of the wooden wings” jump the broad North Dakota plains.

By Tessa Sandstrom

“$1,500 Ski slide under construction in Minot,” The Ward County Independent. Nov. 10, 1932.
“Six meet on Sunday to present thrills on brand new slide,” Minot Daily News. Dec. 31, 1932: 1.
“Ski leaps thrill many as slide is dedicated,” Minot Daily News. Jan. 3, 1933: 6.
“Famous skiers to leap Sunday,” Minot Daily News. Feb. 4, 1933: 1.
“Event to take place of tourney canceled by Sunday’s blizzard,” Minot Daily News. Feb. 6, 1933: 1.
“Record jump at Sunday ski meet predicted by Oimoen; Snow adds winter setting,” Minot Daily News. Mar. 4, 1933: 1.
“Oimoen Wins Class A Honors at Ski Meet; Paulsen Second,” Minot Daily News. Mar. 6, 1933: 8.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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