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Commitment to World Cup skiing announced

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks on Wednesday at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming. She and other officials lent their support to the return of competitive World Cup skiing in the Upper Peninsula. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was one of several dignitaries celebrating the return of competitive World Cup skiing to northern Michigan on Wednesday.

Whitmer visited the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming to talk about bringing world-class skiing to the Upper Peninsula.

“This is a really exciting thing that is happening in our state, one that has ramifications not just for this local community but for our state as a whole, and the sport and the mission,” Whitmer said.

She announced a $3 million grant from the state of Michigan for the Pine Mountain ski jump, which she called one of the largest artificial ski jumps in the world.

Pine Mountain, located near Iron Mountain, has hosted the International Ski Federation’s annual Continental Cup jumping tournament, which takes place on its 120-meter hill.

“This ski jump will help attract more visitors and solidify the U.P. as a year-round travel destination,” Whitmer said.

Pine Mountain is in line to host an international World Cup ski jumping competition in 2021.

The U.P. also is home to Copper Peak, located near Ironwood and the only ski flying venue in the Western Hemisphere. Copper Peak organizers are expected to submit a bid for a World Cup competition in early 2020.

The announcement came after a $10 million appropriation from Public Act 618 of 2018 for the Northern Michigan Tourism and Sports Fund and Great Lakes Sports Commission in response to leaders’ vision to promote northern Michigan as a venue for world class sport competition.

Also on hand was Bill Demong, who in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, won a gold medal for the U.S. in the Nordic combined large hill competition.

“There is a tremendous desire to return these high-level events to the United States,” Demong said, “and Pine Mountain presents an opportunity — I should call it Iron Mountain, as it’s more broadly known — to return to World Cup for the first time since 2001.”

Demong, now executive director of USA Nordic, said Copper Peak’s summer ski flying facility is open for training and all disciplines and genders, including Nordic combined.

“Just fantastic highlights for this region to be able to showcase not only its support for sport but how to headline a world tour for ski jumping and Nordic combined,” Demong said.

Nordic combined consists of ski jump and cross-country skiing.

“Once Copper Peak is built up and international summer competitions follow, this truly will be a perfect day for ski jumping,” said Marty Fittante, chief executive officer for InvestUP.

Another official who spoke at the event was Gary Rasmussen, head ski jumping coach of the Ishpeming Ski Club for Suicide Hill.

He said the program in Ishpeming used to involve “just a few little kids” in ski jumping.

That’s no longer the case.

“The last few winters we’ve had as many as 30 and 40 kids come out and try it,” Rasmussen said, “and we’ve retained about a dozen to a dozen and a half kids who come out on a very regular basis.”

International Ski Federation Race Director Walter Hofer flew in from Munich to attend Wednesday’s event.

“We would like to host World Cup events here,” Hofer said. “We would like to host ski flying events here. We would like to operate Ironwood to a unique standardized facility.”

Nita Englund, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, also believes Nordic skiing events can help the regional economy.

“I would say the importance of the revitalization of Pine Mountain and Copper Peak is that it will really benefit and revitalize the economy and help us bring ski jumping to the U.S. and the U.P.,” Englund said.

Fritz Erickson, president of Northern Michigan University and vice chairman of the GLSC, said he is pleased to be part of the commission because it represents a significant economic opportunity.

“We look forward to what the future brings, not only with ski jumping as sort of being one of the initial activities of the Great Lakes Sports Commission,” Erickson said. “We see many, many other sports opportunities.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.