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Up, up and away

About 100 years ago, ski jump clubs in west central Minnesota were gaining members, altitude

It may not compare with the Sochi Olympic’s RusSki Gorki Jumping Center’s ski jump, but in its day, the jump at Dalton drew hundreds of competitors and even more spectators to the west central Minnesota community.

A group of enthused Scandinavians formed the Dalton Ski Club in 1912 and, three years later, built the first jump. The club held competitions each year until 1918 when World War I put a drain on manpower, according to documents at the Otter Tail County Historical Museum. Activities at the jump were suspended, and the tower was dismantled and sold.

Enthusiasm for the sport grew by the late 1920s, and a club was formed again. The club had over 100 members and more than 30 active skiers.

The names of the club members are well known in the area, including Goody Rude, Bob and LeRoy Rude, Bud Bergerson, Eugene Fick, Sale Spitsberg, Sylvan Lien, Marvin Formo, Harland Lien, Ernest Melby, Keith Minge, Sticky Ecker, Ole Draxten, Roland Harlow, Jerry Hanson and Tubby Fick.

Once they rebuilt it, the crowds came. At a tournament in 1933 as many as 5,000 spectators came with around 125 contestants at one event, documents report.

The longest recorded at the ski jump in the 1940s was 144 feet.

There were many different jumps at the site over the years, but the last one was the tallest, according to Goody Rude’s comments to a local paper at the time. One of the jumps measured 38 feet and, when rebuilt, was raised to 64 feet.

Tragedy struck the Dalton jump in 1957 when longtime skier and stalwart ski club member Walter Erickson was crushed to death while helping to tear down the old, rotting jump in preparation for a new one, documents said. It took eight years to build the new jump with Rude, his brother-in-law, spearheading the drive to complete the Walter Erickson Memorial Ski Jump. That 64-foot tall jump was 150-feet long with a drop of 30 feet at the end.

Rude was a ski jumper for 40 years. He started the sport when he was 16 and dating the sister of Walter Erickson. Erickson taught Rude the sport. He made his longest jump – 189 feet- from a 180-foot tower in Duluth.

Jumping style changed from the Dalton Ski Jump’s early years. Modern ski jumpers lean forward with their arms at their sides. Ski jumpers at the turn of the 20th century had an old windmill style, Rude said in the museum documents. As the name implies, it involved quite a bit of arm waving as the jumper attempted to propel himself further through the air.

Equipment has also changed. The early ski jumpers had one groove in their skis. The article noted that most equipment has five or six grooves.

Glenwood, Dalton, Minneapolis, Fargo and Duluth all had ski jumps and hosted tournaments. Many of the local ski club members also participated in national competitions.

Interest in ski jumping waned as many turned to downhill skiing. The last tournament at the Dalton Ski Jump occurred in 1966.

Those who loved the sport could identify with the words from a 1948 ski jump program that asked spectators to “remember . . . skiing is a sport that requires coordination of mind and body and lots of nerve. Be generous with your applause. Please stay back far enough to give the boys plenty of room.”

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