Was Blair’s Ski Jump Tournament the First?

There’s been an argument going periodically through the years about which community hosted our country’s first ski jumping tournament. The strongest claims seem to have been made by Red Wing and St. Paul, Minnesota – although Eau Claire, Wisconsin is in the running too.

As I’ve read about these claims, the best ones appear to place Red Wing and St. Paul ski jumping tournaments within a few days of each other in the winter of 1887. The author of Sky Crashers: A History of the Aurora [Red Wing] Ski Club, Frederick L. Johnson, admits that St. Paul’s date of January 25, 1887 has the edge over Red Wing’s February 8. So they are arguing about a few days….

In following up information I had on the Blair Ski Club, I was reading issues of The Whitehall Times from those years. What I discovered was that Blair’s ski jumpers had organized a local ski tournament the winter of 1885, two years earlier than either St. Paul or Red Wing.

On Sunday, February 8, 1885, Blair jumpers held an organized ski tournament on the Ole Helgerson farm about one mile northeast of Blair with cash prizes offered and 200 spectators in attendance. Three of the four top places were taken by the Drangstveit brothers, Aslak, Ole, and Svennung**, who had immigrated to Blair a few years earlier from Norway’s own “cradle of ski jumping,” Morgedal, Telemark. The longest distance jumped February 8 was 55 feet and first place earned Aslak Drangstveit a whole $3.00, the other places receiving less. (Source: The Whitehall Times, Thursday, February 12, 1885)

Svennung Drangstveit photoThat first tournament even brought controversy and comedy, elements sometimes attendant with these sporting events. Some folks contended that third place finisher Ole Midtvid should have been awarded first place, and in the end, he was given an additional $1.70. Two daring men also attempted a double jump on one set of skis, with the entertaining results that “Elmer [Immell] did not fall off, but the tumble made by Green capped the climax and literally brought down the house. The whole affair beat a Fourth of July celebration by big odds.”

I’m sure, of course, that some folks won’t find this authoritative enough to be “the first ski jump tournament” in the country. They’ll want higher level competition, carefully selected judges, and other measures. For me, it sounds pretty good. The same news article indicated that the old timers from Norway in attendance at Blair’s tournament thought these jumpers equalled the jumping taking place in Norway.

The Drangstveit brothers still have descendants in Wisconsin and one day I hope to talk with them about their relatives. From what I could determine, at least one Drangstveit family lived in or near Larkin Valley. and I even wonder if my mother had a Drangstveit child in class when she taught in Larkin Valley in the late forties.

[**The tombstone for Svennung and Ingeborg Drangstveit is located in the cemetery of Zion Lutheran Church in Blair. I have seen a photo of it online.]

By the way, this is my 200th post on this Borreson Cousins blog! Thanks for reading.

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