SKIING THE HILLS OF SOUTH MARQUETTE
MARQUETTE — It now names an elementary school in Marquette, but a century ago “Superior Hills” conjured up an entirely different meaning.
In the 1920s through 1940s skiing (and ski jumping) reigned as perhaps Marquette’s premiere winter sport. Wherever there was a hill (and enough snow) kids and adults alike would strap on their skis, sometimes attached to their feet with plastic cords instead of bindings, and they would soon find themselves gliding through the snow or flying through the air for afternoons on end.
City-sanctioned tournaments were held on homemade jumps set up on streets with steep inclines, like Genesee in South Marquette and Sherman in the Piqua Location. Trophies and prizes were given out, and crows in the hundreds would gather to watch the youth of Marquette fly a few dozen feet through the air. But the majority of fun on the snow usually occurred held at two different locations, Superior Hills and Chipmunk Bluff.
Both hills were near each other in south Marquette. Superior Hills encompassed an area were Shiras Hills now stands and went south toward Mount Marquette. Starting off as a rough, natural area, skiers would climb to the top of the hill on foot and then ski down, only getting in two or three runs a day.
In the late 1930s, the city installed a tow rope on the hill, which greatly increased the number of runs per day. According to Dr. Don Hurst, who skied the hill as a youth, the tow rope would allow up to 25 or 30 runs down the hill in an afternoon.
At the same time, dedicated toboggan paths were cut into the snow, allowing sledders and tobogganers to join in the fun, as well.
Less than half a mile away was another winter sports haven in south Marquette. In the 1930s, Altamont Street went only as far south as Hampton Street. There it ended as the base of a hill. The hill is now home to several hundred houses, but 90 years ago it became home to Chipmunk Bluff.
Like Superior Hills, Chipmunk Bluff started off as a rough, natural sports area, but soon became more developed as more people began using it. Not quite a high in elevation as Superior Hills, Chipmunk Bluff drew in residents from all over the city with its sledding paths, gentle slope, and a small (but sturdy) ski jump.
It also had a rope tow to help bring enthusiasts to the top of the hill. Many people who used the tow rope recall having to let go of it at just the right moment lest they get dragged somewhere they did not want to go.
The tow rope also had a habit of chewing up errant mittens or scarves that might happen to get caught up in it. For several years Chipmunk Bluff was also the home to a youth ski jumping tournament that would attract participants from all across Marquette County.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area around Chipmunk Bluff began to develop as a residential area for a growing city and the tow rope and ski jump were traded in for a subdivision.
The city shifted its winter recreation focus from Chipmunk Bluff and Superior Hills to Kirlin Hill, which eventually became Mount Menard, a ski area that would then operate for the next several decades.
However, for several generations of Marquette winter sports enthusiasts, nothing could ever match the fun they had on Superior Hills and Chipmunk Bluff.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This material comes from “Skiing, Skating, and Slapshots,” a video slide show from Jack Deo and Jim Koski, available now on DVD at the Marquette Regional History Center or for download at www.marquettehistory.org.