Olympic Ski Jumping in Rochester

The History and Connection of Olympic Ski Jumping in the Rochester Area

As unlikely as it may seem, ski jumping was a big attraction in the Rochester area during the Roaring Twenties. The sport had grown in popularity in America as it spread from the mountainous western states to the Midwest. Here in Michigan, the Upper Peninsula town of Ishpeming had a famous ski jump and hosted many high-profile tournaments.

Old photo showing hundreds of spectators looking at the ski jump in winter

Newberry Hill Ski Jump in Rochester, off Bloomer Road, Detroit Ski Club

Six brothers from Ishpeming with a keen interest in the sport brought ski jumping to the Rochester area. The Hall brothers came south to Detroit and began to look for a place to practice their beloved sport. They formed the Detroit Ski Club (DSC), and in 1925 purchased 11 acres of land from the Newberry farm on Bloomer Road at the southeastern edge of Rochester. On a bluff rising above the Clinton River – long known to locals as Newberry Hill – the DSC spent $40,000 to build a competition-grade ski jump.

In her book on the subject, local historian and Newberry family descendant Penny Frank Reddish described the ski jump this way: “The jump was constructed of steel with a wood top and sides, standing 112 feet atop Newberry Hill’s 230-foot elevation. The upper portion of the jump known as the “slide” required skiers to ascend a 10-foot ladder at the front base/bottom before reaching a series of steps that would take them to the top.”

The jump was dedicated on January 31, 1926, and according to accounts in the Rochester Clarion, it attracted more than 10,000 spectators to its inaugural competition. The first place winner at this event was a Norwegian-born competitor named Anders Haugen. The Rochester residents who gathered on Newberry Hill on that day in 1926 did not know as they marveled at Haugen’s soaring performance that they were watching an Olympic medalist at work. But then, neither did Haugen himself.

Old photo of Anders Haugen wearing winter clothes and skis

Anders Haugen

Haugen’s story is an interesting one with an odd twist. Ski jumping had been introduced as an Olympic sport in 1924, when the first modern winter games were held in Chamonix, France. By that time, Haugen had already set two world records in ski jumping, and he served as the captain of the U.S. Ski Jumping Team.

At the 1924 winter games, the final standings in the Men’s Normal Hill Individual competition had Haugen in 4th place with a score of 17.916 points. A Norwegian competitor, Thorleif Haug, squeaked in ahead of Haugen to take third place and the bronze Olympic medal.

That’s how the scores went down in the record books and remained for half a century. But in 1974, when the 1924 American ski jumping team gathered for a reunion, a historian noticed something amiss while reviewing the scores from the long-ago competition. Haugen’s score had been correctly tabulated and recorded. But scorers had made an arithmetic error in calculating the score of third-place winner Thorleif Haug. The error of .095 points changed Haug’s score to 17.821, and that meant that Anders Haugen, with his score of 17.916, had actually been the third-place winner and Olympic bronze medalist.

The International Olympic Committee reviewed the findings and accepted them. On September 12, 1974, more than 50 years after the fact, an 85-year-old Anders Haugen accepted his long overdue Olympic bronze medal at a special ceremony in Oslo, Norway. And, some older Rochester residents no doubt remembered back to the day that they had watched Anders Haugen soaring over the Clinton River valley from the Newberry Hill ski jump in 1926.

Inside display showing the name U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum with illustrated images of skiers

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan – Photo by Michael Dwyer

As of this writing, Anders Haugen is the only American who has ever won an Olympic medal in ski jumping. His Olympic bronze medal is on display at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan. It remains to be seen whether results from the games now underway in PyeongChang will change Haugen’s status as the sole American Olympic ski jumping medalist.

For more information on Rochester’s Newberry Hill ski jump, consult Penny Frank Reddish’s book I Got My Thrill on Newberry Hill: Rochester Area’s World Renowned Ski Jump. The book is available from Rochester Avon Historical Society or Lytle Pharmacy.

About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen recently retired after 34 years as local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She currently serves as the research chairperson for the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

Comments

  1. Donald Worrell says:

    Ski jumping in Rochester? Another fascinating article by
    Ms. Larsen! The photos are a fine touch, too.

  2. The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm sells the book, “I Got My Thrill on Newberry Hill”, as well, and has a display area highlighting this exciting ski jump that was once in our community! Museum and Museum Store open Fridays and Saturdays 12-3pm.

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