Ski jumping was introduced into the USA in 1880s by the Norwegians. In fact, Odd Lovoll writes in The Promise Fulfilled that “ski jumper” became a nickname for Norwegians! Not bad, I’d say, measured against what immigrants were sometimes called.
Here’s a Borreson family activity I wish I knew more about. My father Garven gave us kids occasional clues that skiing was a big deal to him and his brothers. One of the pieces of evidence was an old pair or two of skis that he still had on farm while we were growing up. These were wood, close to six feet long, outfitted with metal and leather boot straps into which we clamped whatever boots we were wearing. I think they were jumping skis, not the downhill kind. We took them to the hills a few times, even tried them out on jumps we built on one of our steepest hills without a tree in our path. Let me humbly add: We spent a lot of time picking ourselves up, brushing off snow, and trudging back up the hill.
I think the eight Borreson brothers did much better, and given what Dad said, it’s remarkable they survived. I remember tales of a hill on the farm they claimed for skiing, but that was nothing compared to his eye-popping stories about making skis from barrel staves, icing one of the shed roofs, and then using the stave-skis to jump off this building! I should have ask for verification of this. Barrel staves were the short (2-3 foot) bent wood pieces used to package hardware like nails. Maybe these dissembled barrels were left from building or remodeling on the farm. If the Borreson boys could really ski on such things, real skis probably were “a piece of cake.”
Among the brothers, I know that Bennie skied in jumping tournaments throughout the state or midwest. One of my favorite stories involved driving out to Havre, Montana, with my wife Mary to begin my year of seminary internship. As we pulled into the church parking lot in late August 1968, the first person I met said to me, “My name’s Mel Johnson. I knew a Borreson back in Wisconsin. His name was Bennie, and I competed with him in ski-jumping tournaments.” (I’m hoping for more from Bennie’s daughter Carol on her father’s ski jumping.)
I also know that another brother Gilbert took his skiing the downhill direction, and he remained an active skier into his seventies. I still am impressed!
There must be other memories of this activity. In fact, I keep wondering if there are any programs or photos around yet from the 1920s and 30s when these brothers would have been flying through the crisp winter air. It would be great fun to find an old schedule or two with names if such items were used. (For the Norwegian origins of skiing, click here.)