EDITOR'S NOTE: Jo Hurst Schils, born and raised in Marquette, wrote this essay about wintertime fun in her youth. The daughter of LaFerne and Vic Hurst of Marquette, Jo grew up enjoying winter sports along with her brother, Don, who is a well-known community member and is mentioned in the essay. Now a wintertime resident of Battle Creek, Mrs. Schils, 82, and her husband, Jack, spend summers in their log home on Bass Lake near Gwinn.
In many ways winter was the most exciting season of all when we were kids. Snow came early - and often - and in large amounts. Don and I would bundle up in our snowsuits, hats, scarves and mittens, lace up our Gold Seal boots, and race outside enjoying the misty mushrooms our breath made in the chilly air.
Most kids in our neighborhood had skis and we hauled them out of storage almost as soon as the first snowflake fell. Skis were plain and dull brown back then and were used both for cross-country and downhill. Fancy boots and bindings were unknown to us. We had simple leather straps on each ski to put our toes through and a strip of rubber cut from a tire inner tube looped under the toe and around the heel to keep our feet in place. "Boots" were simply galoshes over shoes. It wasn't until later that we owned hard square-toed leather boots with a hollowed out groove around the heel to hold a metal spring binding.
Jo Hurst Schils is 9 years old in this photo taken by her mother, LaFerne Hurst. (Hurst family photo)
College Avenue had only a few houses on it during our childhood so we were lucky kids to have wide open fields, and hills on the west side of us where we could run and holler to our hearts' content. Each winter we skied across, around, and through these fields making our own trails and building ski jumps one to two feet high.
Our family belonged to the Marquette Ski Club and many weekends we would drive to Ishpeming and then ski back to Marquette (approximately 12 miles), where a meal of hot dogs, hot chocolate and coffee had been prepared for us by other ski club members.
Marquette had a groomed ski hill, called Superior Hills, that had a free ski tow. So did Ishpeming, and we often went there to ski on the more difficult slopes. Tows, in those days, were just a rope that you grabbed at the bottom of the hill and it pulled you to the top. The rope twisted as it pulled you up and you had to adjust your grip periodically. One Sunday, as I was riding the tow in Ishpeming, the deerskin mitten I was wearing started twisting around the rope. I didn't realize it until I tried to let go at the top and couldn't. The tow lifted me up by my thumb and carried me through the air toward the huge metal wheels at the top of the tow. I screamed in terror. The tow operator saw (and heard) my plight and stopped the tow in the nick of time, leaving me hanging high in the air by one thumb. Finally someone climbed up and unfastened me. Actually I was more scared than hurt and only ended up with a badly sprained thumb.
To the right of that same ski hill there was a ski jump about four feet high. I stood at the top of that hill one day for about 20 minutes trying to get up the courage to jump. I had visions of being the first female ski-jumper in local competitions. I also had visions of a broken neck, and in the end decided not to jump. I have always regretted that decision.
Other winter activities we enjoyed were sledding, tobogganing, building snowmen, and making snow angels. We built forts and had ferocious snowball fights. We plodded through hip-deep snow or tried to see how far we could walk on the top crust before breaking through. We sucked on icicles and sneaked up behind each other to stuff handfuls of cold wet snow down each other's backs. On Flexible Flyers toboggans we careened down slopes until our clothes were soaked and crusty. Afterwards we would go inside, strip off stiff clothes with cold prickling fingers, and warm stinging cheeks. Mom would often have steaming hot chocolate waiting for us.
The wind and snow created many 8- to 10-foot drifts in the field next to our house so we built "prairie dog towns" - rooms dug underneath the snow with connecting tunnels. We played in them for weeks.
During the winter of 1938 we had a major snowstorm that piled snow up to the second-story windows of our house and Dad had to dig a tunnel to our front door so we could get in and out of the house. The day of the storm a fire burned down several stores on the north side of the main street in downtown Marquette. I remember Dad and Earl Ferns putting Bill, Bob, Don and me on a toboggan and taking us all down to see the fire. It burned a long time because all the roads were blocked with snowdrifts and fire trucks couldn't get near the scene.
To handle all the snow of Marquette winters, huge snowplows had "grinders" on the front that cleared the snow from the streets and blew it into nearby fields or into trucks that took it away and dumped it. Even then snow cleared from streets, sidewalks, and driveways soon piled up so high that cars couldn't see over or around the piles at the corners. Most cars had red flags tied to their antennas so they could at least be seen over the snowbanks.
As I get older I take less pleasure in snow and cold weather, but I will never forget the fun we had in the snow when we were children.