Skip to main content

Window into Yesterday - Up, Up, and Away!

Ski jump that was located at Hidden Valley.

by David Kess for the Ely-Winton Historical Society

Back in the 1920s Ely cross country and down hill skiers became interested in ski jumping. Just when actual ski jumping began is not certain, but one of the first enthusiasts was Lenny Nappa. In 1923 a rather crude jump constructed of lumber was built just west of Central Avenue - back of what is now the Oasis International Church. There was a hill and a substantial hollow below it, the result of a city gravel pit.

Once at least Lenny Nappa’s skis came off going off the jump. “Head over heels! All I could do was to tuck in my head!” But he survived with only a broken ankle.

The structure blew down the next year, but by 1927 it was rebuilt and stayed in use until the 1950s. Neighborhood kids, such as myself, dared one another to climb up the rickety slide in summer. Boards were missing or loose so some of us never did make it to the top.

A much better site was found at what became known as Hidden Valley. It too bordered a gravel pit. In 1961 the Ely Ski Club organized and a steel jump and a heated chalet was constructed. In 1983 a second ski jump of 70 meters in height was built.

Warren Nikkola was quoted as saying that as a skier lifted off the 70 meter slide he was going at 53 mph - you were 200 feet in the air, and the ground just faded away. “If you were nervous, you’d better not be up there!”

Ely sent ski jumpers to the Junior National Championships in all but two years between 1959 and 1982. Jim Grahek qualified for the Lake Placid Olympics and Jim Williams finished fourth in Senior Ski Jumping. Also going to Lake Placid were Al Wrinikainen, Mickey Tomsich, Bob Banovetz, John Jeffrey and Bill Rom.

The 1990s saw a waning of interest in jumping. In addition, the skyrocketing cost of liability insurance became prohibitive. Ski jumping was and is a risky business. The Hidden Valley chalet became basically idle. The 70 jump was sold to the Norge Ski Club of Fox River, IL, where it was rebuilt. It is still in use. The smaller jump was also sold and dismantled but to whom and where is not found in the historical society files.

So, skiing has come full circle, going back even to the days of Asarius Autio, a Finnish National Champion, who lived and skied in Ely in the early 1900s. He was a famous cross country skier, that being the rage then.

And so it now is again. Bob Cary and Bob Somers began the renovation of Hidden Valley by clearing and widening ski trails. The Ely Youth Ski League and the Wilderness Trek trails took the place of the ski jumps. Thanks to people like Paul Pengal and Paula Anderson for this success.

The “up, up” still is the “away” but now really is something that enjoyed by many skiers if not jumpers.

Thanks to Johnnie Hyde for her 2006 Winter Times article on winter sports in Ely. Pictures of the three ski jumps, the skiers, and Hidden Valley are on display at the Vermilion Campus of Minnesota North. Call the office at 218-365-3226 for more information.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates