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State initiative to support international skiing a great idea

Big money always talks and this past week it was talking about world class skiing.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other high-ranking folks in the sports world and business communities gathered at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming Wednesday. Their reason? To announce a major push to bring international skiing competitions back to Michigan.

Part of the push is a $3 million grant given by the state to Pine Mountain, which is located near Iron Mountain. 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.

At 176 feet and one of the highest artificially-created ski jumps in the world, Pine Mountain is in line to host a World Cup ski jumping competition in 2021.

The International Ski Federation, or FIS — which technically stands for Federation Internationale de Ski — oversees these competitions, and keeping a group like that engaged with Michigan is a good idea for many reasons.

For one, the Upper Peninsula has shown it can play host to international competitions such as these in the past. A press release about Wednesday’s announcement states that Pine Mountain hosts annual FIS Ski Jumping Continental Cup competitions and was the site of the FIS Ski Jump World Cup in 1996 and 2000. Aside from that, the U.P. is home to Gogebic County’s Copper Peak, which is the only ski flying venue in the Western Hemisphere. The folks there expect to submit a bid for a World Cup competition in early 2020, and FIS Race Director Walter Hofer, who flew from Munich to attend Wednesday’s conference, said in a Journal article on the event that he’d like World Cup events to be hosted there.

“We would like to host ski flying events here,” Hofer said. “We would like to operate Ironwood (Copper Peak) to a unique standardized facility.”

We’ve also got to say this is a good idea because of the local connection with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, which is located right in Ishpeming. That’s a nationally recognized facility and organization right in our own backyard. Its primary focus is to highlight and promote the sport of skiing, and elevating its prominence globally obviously can’t be a bad thing for our region or the sport.

Finally, it comes down to the economic impact competitions like these will have on the U.P.

Nita Englund, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, 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.

In the words of Gov. Whitmer: “This ski jump will help attract more visitors and solidify the U.P. as a year-round travel destination.”

Let’s be honest. As much as we love the sport of skiing, what really turns the heads of decision-makers are dollar signs.

The state of Michigan has been promoting its recreational assets for years, marketing the region as a tourist destination for bikers, hikers, boaters, anglers and more. The presence of skiers and ski jumpers on that list cannot be overlooked, especially if international competitions make a comeback in the U.P.