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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Then and Now: Wandermere ski jumping

The weather in January 1933 was typical. There was no snow on the ground, but the Spokane Ski Club and the Chamber of Commerce went ahead with plans for a ski event at Wandermere Golf Course, which had opened as a nine-hole course in 1929.

Snow skiing, both downhill and cross-country, was growing rapidly. Ski clubs were installing rope tows on popular hills, including Mount Spokane, though chair lifts were still a few years away. The superstars of the burgeoning sport were the ski jumpers, fearless young men who flew off ramps wearing leather boots bound to wooden skis with metal bindings. Ski jumping had started in Norway in the early 1800s but became a stand-alone event around the world in the 1920s.

The 1933 Spokane Ski Tournament at Wandermere drew some impressive talent. There was Northwest champion Ole Tverdal of the Seattle Ski Club, John Elvrum and Hjalmer Hvam of the Cascade Ski Club and Hermond Baake of the Leavenworth Ski Club, who had recently jumped over 200 feet.

Skiers said the slope, down the bluff on the south side of the golf course, was the finest natural ramp they had seen. Crews graded a 35 percent slope and built a wooden takeoff ramp, all designed to maximize flying distance. They packed down loose straw to pad the landing zone before spreading 1,100 cubic yards of snow from Mount Spokane down the hillside.

But on the big day, a strong crosswind made it too dangerous for skiers to start their run from the very top, and the winning distances were modest. Winner Halverd Petterson reached 121 feet, not the hoped-for 200 feet. But people watched and ate sandwiches around bonfires. Organizers estimated there were more than 20,000 spectators, causing a mileslong traffic jam on Division Street. Profits were pledged to the next year’s event.

But January 1934 was even warmer than the year before, and snow had to be shipped by rail from the Cascades at a cost of $2,000. The quickly melting snow was too slow for the jumpers to gain much speed and the results were disappointing. Business sponsors were hesitant to commit to more events.

Another successful event was held on the Wandermere slope in 1938. Alf Engen of Sun Valley jumped 177 feet while 8,000 people watched. Local organizers put in a bid for the Olympic trials in 1939, but the event went to Oregon’s Mount Hood instead.

– Jesse Tinsley