ISHPEMING - With the longer winters and loads of snowfall that the Upper Peninsula receives every year, it's no wonder that skiing is popular. But some may wonder why the national museum and hall of fame dedicated to skiing and snowboarding is located in Ishpeming, of all places.
The reason is traceable back to the 1800s, when iron ore mining drew many groups of immigrants to the area, with the Scandinavians dominating - most of those being Norwegian.
Norway's national sport is skiing, so was only natural that the Norwegians in the area started a ski club in Ishpeming, called the Norden Ski Club, in 1887.
Suicide Hill in the late 1940s. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum)
The U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming.
Ralph Bietila, a ski jumper for the Ishpeming Ski Club, was the youngest member of the famous “Flying Bietilas.” Bietila was inducted in the hall of fame in 1975 and passed away in 2008. (U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame photo).
The late Joe Perrault, another ski jumper for the Ishpeming Ski Club, became a local hero when he set a North American distance record of 297 feet in 1949, the year this photo was taken.
"In Norway, it was seen as being healthy to be outside. If you stayed inside all winter you weren't healthy," said Bob Hendrickson of the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum. "So that mentality was brought over here with the Norwegians."
The Norden Ski Club hosted ski jumping tournaments that shut down the whole town, Hendrickson said, but because of a few mild winters the sport never got much momentum until the 1900s when the Norden Ski Club became the Ishpeming Ski Club and opened its doors to all nationalities.
"The Norden Ski Club became the Ishpeming Ski Club in 1901 and that started the momentum to start all of theses changes and really start growing the sport," Hendrickson said. "At that time there was a lot of energy going into skiing. It was something new and people were starting to enjoy it more."
In 1904, the Ishpeming Ski Club put on its first large tournament, which went on to establish the idea of a national championship. It was called the 14th Annual Ski Jumping Tournament of the Ishpeming Ski Club and it was won by an Ishpeming ski jumper.
"The competitions go back to the start of it in 1887 and there's been a tournament basically every year since then," Hendrickson said. "Sometimes there's multiple tournaments throughout the year but there's always one tournament that becomes the tournament."
In 1905, the Ishpeming Ski Club decided to call their tournament the national tournament and awarded a national championship medal to the winner.
After that tourney, the Ishpeming Ski Club and the other competing area clubs scheduled a meeting and in Feb. 21, 1905, the Ishpeming Ski Club president Carl Tellefsen announced a new organization called the National Ski Association, of which he would be president.
According to the article "A History of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming" by Allen Adler in the third issue of the 1997 Skiing Heritage Journal, Ishpeming's 1906 tournament was called The Second National Ski Tournament, reinforcing the idea of a national ski competition ruled by a national ski organization headed by a nation president.
The Ishpeming Ski Club later claimed that the 1904 tournament was the first national championship and was changed in the book. It was then change again 90 years later to reflect the 1905 tournament as the first official national championship.
In "The Ishpeming Ski Club: Over a Century of Skiing," Burt Boyum and Jamie LaFreniere said the main goal of the NSA was to develop an interest in the sport and encourage the organization of local clubs throughout the country. It goes on to say that the club also hoped to establish a set of standard rules and regulation to govern judging at tournament across the country.
"The National Ski Association came in and said,' let's make some standards for ski jumping competitions so each club can have these rules and competition formats to create a more even playing field,'" Hendrickson said. "Before that each club had its own way for determining who were the winners."
Over the years the National Ski Association grew adding more and more clubs to the organization until it became the ruling body of national ski competition, mostly nordic.
In 1941, Harold Grinden of Duluth, a previous NSA president, was named as the U.S. National Ski Historian and according to Adler's article, that's when he started to push for a national ski museum to be housed in Ishpeming. Grinden brought it up at the 1941 NSA convention but nothing came from that meeting.
At the NSA Anniversary Dinner in Ishpeming in 1944, the NSA president Roger Langley brought up the idea again for a national ski museum, but it was held off because of World War II.
"At the national convention in Chicago in 1948 they selected Ishpeming as the site of the national museum, and that's when Burt Boyum came in," Hendrickson said.
The Ishpeming Ski Club offered to develop the plans and be responsible for overseeing the construction of the building if the other regions would contribute funding and the building would belong to the NSA. Boyum, an officer of Cleveland Cliffs iron mining company in Ishpeming and several others agreed to donate a total of $10,000 to start the project and the Ishpeming Ski Club raised the rest of the funds.
About $50,000 later, the construction of the museum was completed in 1953 and Boyum became the first curator of the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and Museum. Boyum also served as the hall of fame president from 1985 to 2000. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 1965.
The first four inductees into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame came in 1956. The inductees were Carl Tellefsen,
Aksel Holter, Arthur J. Barth and Edward F. Taylor. They were chosen because of their part in founding the NSA, which is now named the U.S. Ski Association. The U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame currently has over 380 honored members with new ones being added every year.
With Ishpeming recognized as the birthplace of organized skiing, it's only fitting for the hall of fame and museum to be located there.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org