Ski jumping’s rich Colorado history
May 2, 2016
It took Anders Haugen 50 years to receive his Olympic medal. A two-time Olympic ski jumper and captain of the first U.S. ski team, Haugen had his best showing during the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France, where he jumped 49 meters.
After the jump, Haugen waited to see where he landed in the standings, only to come up fourth and off the podium. This was later revealed to be a scoring error, and in 1974 Haugen was finally awarded the bronze medal he had rightfully earned in the roaring '20s to become the first American to win a medal in ski jumping.
Before Haugen found fame and glory in the Olympic spotlight, however, he was already very well-known in Summit County. Originally from Telemark, Norway, Haugen claimed Dillon as his home after moving in 1908. In 1919, he set the world record for a ski jump with a distance of 213 feet, or 64.92 meters. This record-setting jump took place on Lake Hill where there was once a long ski jump that screamed towards the former town of Dillon, now the location of Lake Dillon. A year later, Haugen came back to Lake Hill and bested his own world record by jumping 214 feet. The record then stood until 1932.
In 1978, Haugen was elected into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, and he remained active in the sport as the club director for the Lake Tahoe Ski Club well into his 70s. Haugen passed away in April 1984 at the age of 95.
SKI JUMPING FEVER
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Though Anders and his younger brother Lars were two of the better known ski jumpers to come out of Summit, they were far from the only enthusiasts in the county, as make-shift jumps were set up throughout the area. Much like today's backcountry adventurers, these jumpers were in uncharted territory. Not only were they setting records for distance, they were doing it on hand-made jumps and creating world-class competitions. In fact, Haugen, along with Peter Prestrud and Eyvin Flood, built the massive ski jump in Dillon with competition in mind; the Lake Hill jump was used for two competitions in March of 1919.
Lake Hill was not the only game in town for serious jumpers, though. Hoosier Pass and Shock Hill near Breckenridge — where you can still see remnants of the old jump — each had their own ski jumps, and Colorado soon became a mecca for anyone looking to catch serious air. Ski jumping largely got started in Colorado after a blizzard in 1913 rendered Denver an isolated island, allowing only skiers to easily navigate the city.
After that, the sporting folk of Denver created the Denver Rocky Mountain Ski Club and attempted to hold the first tournament at Inspiration Point in 1914. Unfortunately, low snow totals left the event lacking, and the group went on the hunt for a new home. The result of their search turned up the Genesee jump; an astounding 700-foot drop located just west of Denver, which remained in use through the mid-1950s. Both the 1921 and 1927 National Junior Championships were held at Genesee Mountain, according to the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame.
Currently, these areas have either been repurposed or left abandoned. To get an idea of what may have gone through Haugens' head, try standing at the top of Lake Hill above Dillon and imagine hurling yourself to the lake below on skis longer than anything you'll find on the mountains nowadays. Whether it took courage, stupidity or ambition, these men helped to establish Summit as a skiers' delight long before the first lifts started turning.
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