Ski Flyers

“If you get the right angle to float on top of the pressure of the wind you get more distance.” (Clarence Sverold, Canadian Olympian)

The huge metal ski jump at the Stoney Creek Valley in Camrose is an impressive sight. It is the legacy of the daring Norwegian flyers who made Camrose the birth place of ski jumping in Alberta. Adolph and Lars Marland, P. Mikkelson and the Engbretonson brothers formed the Fram Ski Club there in 1911. It was named for the Fram, meaning “forward” in Norwegian, the ship that carried Roald Amundsen on his famous expedition to Antarctica.

The Fram Ski club began construction in the fall of 1911 on a fifty-foot scaffold tower with a long slide in the Stoney Creek valley. Anticipation mounted for the club’s first ski jump tournament held in January 1912. People came from miles around in sleighs and cutters and happily paid the 25 cents entry fee. Adolph Marland soared seventy-four feet through the air to be acclaimed the winner.

Ski tournament, Edmonton, Alberta, 1914 (Glenbow Archives, NC-6-1308).

The Fram Ski Club soon had competition. Not to be outdone, Edmonton also formed a club in 1911, and built a bigger jump at Connor’s Hill for the 1912 season. Camrose hosted the first tournament between the two clubs on February 17th 1912. Edmonton’s John Hogan outdistanced the Camrose team with a jump of 87 feet. On the same day the Fram and Edmonton Ski Clubs formed the National Ski Association of Western Canada. Its purpose was to “to create, develop and sustain interest in the sport of ski running and ski jumping.” It set out the rules and scoring system for combining points for length of ski jump, landing, and aspects of style to determine the overall winner. The distance is still measured today from the edge of the take-off to where the jumper touches the landing slope below.

A week later the two clubs held a return competition at Connor’s Hill and John Hogan once again made the longest jump. “The spectator would gasp,” noted The Edmonton Journal, “as a skier came whizzing down the long wooden slide, hit the take off platform, doubled up like a jack-knife and then flew out into space, landing on both feet in the snow, and speeding down the hill.”

Spectators at Camrose Ski Jump, 1954 (Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA237.1).

Spectators at Camrose Ski Jump, 1954 (Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA237.1).

Although ski running, soon known as cross country skiing (or Nordic skiing) was becoming popular, it was ski jumping that captured the public’s imagination. In 1913 over 5,000 spectators watched John Hogan set a new Canadian record with a jump of 109 feet at Connors Hill. It was a major event attended by the Lieutenant Governor Bulyea, Mayor McNamara, and the Norwegian consul.

The ski clubs often had to repair or replace the first ski jumps because they were generally built from wood and deteriorated quickly. Although the Connor’s Hill jump survived the 1915 flood on the Saskatchewan River, it gradually weakened. Finally deemed unsafe by the City, it was dismantled in 1926. The Edmonton Ski Club rebuilt it in 1935. When the first jump at Camrose blew down, it was replaced in 1924. This in turn was replaced by a third one in 1930, in time for the western Canadian Championships in 1932.

The Camrose Ski Club Club, as the Fram became known, remained at the heart of ski jumping in Alberta through the 1950s. The Servold brothers, Clarence and Irwin, who represented Canada at the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, continued the tradition of those early Camrose jumpers who mentored them. Nevertheless, despite club ski jumps at Devon and Athabasca, ski jumping fell somewhat out of vogue during the 1960s. The Camrose ski jump was taken down, and Edmonton’s last ski jumping tournament was held on Connor’s Hill in 1975, although the jump remained as a city landmark until 1978.

Fram ski club tournament, Camrose, Alberta, February 17, 1912 (Glenbow Archives NA-2537-13).

Fram ski club tournament, Camrose, Alberta, February 17, 1912 (Glenbow Archives, NA-2537-13).

As a spectator sport ski jumping had less appeal than alpine competition through the 1970s. There was a resurgence of interest during the 1980s when a large concrete ski jump took shape at Calgary Olympic Park as the city prepared to host the Olympic Winter Games in 1988. Clarence Sverold designed a new ski jump constructed from welded pipes with a wooden slide surface for the Alberta Winter Games held in Camrose in1990. Because athletes’ ability and equipment has advanced so much, longer landing lanes are needed than in 1990. The Camrose jump does not meet current standards and is no longer used. The largest jump at Canada Olympic Park is no longer used for the same reason. The national ski jumping team still trains on the smaller ski jumps.

Today, the International Ski Federation holds events in three types of ski jump competitions: normal hill, large hill and ski flying hill on which incrementally longer distances have been achieved. The current Ski Flying World Record of 246.5 metres (809 feet) was set by Johan Remen Evensen of Norway in 2011—well over ten times the distance flown a hundred years earlier by Adolph Marland of Camrose.

2 comments

  1. In the 1939-45 era, a Norwegian resident constructed a “ski slide” in the Village of Holden, to “give the young folks the opportunity to learn ski jumping”. This information is in a copy of the Holden Herald, but unfortunately there is no photo. The site is identified, and there is a decent slope there. It’s interesting to imagine a ski jump at the top, right in the centre of town.

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