Dakota Datebook

Devils Lake Ski Jump

Friday, December 19, 2008


Did you ever wish that you could fly without wings? In the 1930s all you really needed was a pair of skis and the Devils Lake Ski Jump. A veteran skier from Minneapolis once got to the take-off point and shouted, “My God!” as he could scarcely believe the distance to the valley below. A Fargo skier fainted. Fortunately, he only required a few days in the hospital.

So to learn what it was like to take a trip down the ski jump, on this date in 1939, a Grand Fork Herald cameraman decided to give it a try. But upon climbing to the top, he was not quite prepared for the sight that confronted him. The tower was 100 feet high and there was another 200 foot drop to the landing zone. Averting his eyes from the downhill run he began talking about anything that would take his mind off the steep slope, but it was too late to back out.

Downward he went to the take-off point reaching a high rate of speed. But it was not the speed that got his attention – once airborne, he could no longer see what ski jumpers call the under-hill. Every skier immediately sets his eyes on where he is going to land, part of the timing of the jump, however, this particular hill didn’t allow that, as he stated, “You can’t see the spot where you are going to land. You see automobiles… hundreds of them… little tiny ones… you see the people… you see the flat. You see it all, four or five hundred feet below. You’re SO alone up there.” He stated that on every hill he had ridden, there was always an under-hill but on this one all he could do was wait for the reappearance of the good old, snow covered hill beneath him.

After a safe landing, he summed up the jump like this, “To the onlooker it doesn’t seem that the jumper is in the air long, but that moment when you discover the under-hill is not under you and the month-and-a-half later, when it shows up, is a terrific shock. … That surprising, terrifying height is an awful shock. But it puts a real thrill into skiing.”

The Devils Lake Ski Jump was built in 1931, but lasted only a couple of decades. Fatalities, broken bones and insurance problems put an end to it, but the bleached, rusted remnants, still visible in the winter sky, offer mute testimony to the glory days when Casper Oimen, Peder Falstad and other Olympic stars once flew over this slope.

By Jim Davis

The Devils Lake World – January 4, 1939.
Ibid, December 21, 1932
Ibid, February 8, 1933
Ibid, February 15, 1933

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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