Summit’s Historic Yesterdays: 1920s Dillon ski meet sets world record
Summit’s Historic Yesterdays
Norwegian transplants to Summit County have always impacted local sports but no sport more than skiing, both downhill and cross-country. As noted in last week’s column, Norwegian Balce Weaver carried off Colorado’s first recorded ski event in early-1860 Breckenridge — and made a legendary gold strike on that historic outing.
A half century later, another Norwegian revolutionized the sporting life of early 1900s Summit County when he took skiing into the air by soaring off homemade ski jumps. Another 50 years after that, Norwegians Trygve Berge and Sigurd Rockne helped pioneer Breckenridge Ski Resort.
My own longtime friends, Norwegians Freda Langell Neiters, Kikken Miller and Kolbjorn Tenfiord, have inspired me in hiking and backcountry skiing.
SMALL BEGINNINGS, BIG ACHIEVEMENT
Peter Prestrud, who arrived in Frisco from Hamar, Norway in 1910, brought with him a boundless enthusiasm for ski jumping. Most of Frisco and Summit County took up ski jumping. Like other boys, the Frisco postmaster’s son begged his parents for skis and built a little jump for daily practice after school. Jumps appeared all around Frisco and the men spent Sunday afternoons participating in jump meets, sometimes at the Lund Ranch down the Blue. Prestrud himself thought nothing of skiing from Frisco over Ute Pass all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs for a jump meet. He competed, then skied all the way home.
Prestrud led a group of young local ski buffs to build an ambitious ski jump at Dillon. Located above Old Dillon on the present Dam Road, near the reservoir’s glory-hole spillway, the jump was lovingly constructed and maintained. It was no amateur stuntboard. The cut for the on-run can be seen high above the reddish rock outcrop overhanging the Dam Road. Back Street in Old Dillon had to be closed so skiers could run out their jumps.
The famous Dillon Jump was renamed Prestrud Hill in 1954 to honor its creator. The flawlessly-constructed jump, plus his long career in competition, earned Prestrud induction into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
Anders Haugen, born and raised in Telemark, Norway, surprised Dillon old-timers when he traveled all the way to Colorado during an American sojourn and scrambled over the difficult Loveland Pass trail to appear in Summit County. His goal: To attempt a little-known ski jump rumored to be located at Dillon. Haugen readied himself for the jump with little local flurry. The Norwegian skier took the jump and soared an amazing 213 feet in 1919 to establish a brand-new world record! The next year, 1920, he set out to beat his own record on the Dillon Jump. This time the media did not fail to herald the event.
“Ski tourney at Dillon tomorrow” blared in 96-point headline type from the Summit County Journal on Feb. 28, 1920. A special train transported the Breckenridge fans and the railway added extra coaches to trains coming from Leadville and the Ten Mile district. Early day big-reel movie cameras cranked out film coverage of the event for the Universal Film Company, to be shown the next day at Breckenridge’s Eclipse Theater. The Journal promised readers a chance to “get in the movies.” Ski jump fans paid a notable $1 to view the event. A foot of untracked powder awaited the event.
TWO WORLD RECORDS SET AT DILLON JUMP
This time pressure mounted for world-record setter Anders Haugen. In 1919 almost no one witnessed his 213 foot jump. In 1920 a nerve-rattling horde of professional and crack amateur jumpers turned out to challenge the hero. Champs Henry Hall of Denver, Carl Howelson of Steamboat Springs and Peter Prestrud of Dillon joined a dozen other famous jumpers from all over the U.S. to test the mettle of the record-maker.
Anders Haugen thrilled the crowd by soaring 214 feet, beating his own record, outdistancing all the competition and sending a mighty cheer through the crowd.
These ski heroes inspired the little boys in towns and on ranches. “We skied as kids,” Chick Deming said. “My brother found a couple of boards, boiled them in water (to turn up the tips), put straps on them and we started jumping at places like Piston Hill in Frisco.” The boys became avid fans of jump events at Dillon, Slate Creek, Hot Sulphur Springs and Grand Lake, which all had ski jumps. They also staged their own jumps as teenagers. Deming jumped with the Lower Blue ranch youth Karl Knorr. “We had another jump, called the Little Pitch, near the Dillon Jump (the Big Pitch), 60 years ago,” Deming recalled. He admired Knorr’s talent as well as that of young Frisco rancher Howard Giberson, another “pretty good jumper.”
Having cast off the restraints of corsets and pantaloons, girls and women also entered the ranks of local 1920s skiers. They weren’t the first, however. The socially-prominent Finding daughters, Tonnie and Agnes, had often strapped fashionable boots into early day bindings for a pleasant day of ski touring in the late 1800s. Minnie Dusing Thomas, an avid outdoors woman, hiked all summer and skied all winter. Minnie eventually married Bill Thomas, founder of Frisco’s Bill’s Ranch. Decades later, Summit County’s skiing schoolmarm, Emma Sawyer, skied to her schoolhouse in late 1950s Kokomo.
These stories come from “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado.” Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in “Breckenridge.” Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide, “The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at alpenrosepress.com.
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