“The most unique ski jump in the world.”
Any guesses where that was? Whistler might come to mind. Or maybe Banff or Jasper, where ski jumping has a long and historic tradition.
The “most unique ski jump in the world” was, in fact, located at Kingsgate.
It’s not just my opinion that I’m offering here. In 1932, the ski jump at Kingsgate was billed as “the most unique” in the Canadian Ski Annual and in the Spokesman Review newspaper.
So what exactly made it so special? There were ski jumps all over the country – many of the communities in the East and West Kootenays and across the US border had ski clubs with their own ski jumps. Yahk alone had three separate jumps: one for the men, one for the boys, and one for “the little guys.” Many of those ski clubs hosted tournaments, and many of those tournaments were attended by Olympic level skiers from all over BC and Washington. So the fact that the Kingsgate club hosted tournaments in 1932 and 1933, and that Canadian Olympic ski jumper Arnold “Nip” Stone participated in the 1932 event, does not make the Kingsgate jump very unique at all.
No, what made the Kingsgate hill special is the fact that jumpers took off in the US, and landed in Canada.
The Spokesman Review in February 1932 described the hill as follows: “ At the [railway] station just 200 yards from the hill visitors were confronted with what is said to be the most natural ski runway in this part of the country. The run extended almost 1,400 feet up the sides of the mountain with the take-off almost exactly on the international border and the landing field on the Canadian side. The jumper was in sight every minute except for a few feet just before take-off.”
I’m sure this sort of thing would cause quite a commotion in immigration circles today, but in the 1930s it was not a big deal. The two communities of Kingsgate and Eastport were very close knit, customs agents knew all the residents, and the locals simply went from one to the other as though the international border wasn’t there.
The Kingsgate-Eastport Ski Club was organised shortly after a group of Norwegian families arrived in the Yahk area in 1928, and the ski jump was built about the same time. It was used up until about 1940. In addition to the two tournaments held at Kingsgate, the club members frequently travelled to competitions in other communities.
The Kingsgate tournaments included ski jumping for three or four different age groups, a combined event (ski jumping plus a cross-country ski race), and a 12-mile cross-country race. The 1933 event also included a parade, “fancy” skating, and a hockey game between the Cranbrook-Kimberley all-stars and the Spokane all-stars.
Special trains came from Spokane and Kimberley to bring spectators to the tournaments. In 1932, the special train over the Spokane International railway was “the largest special that road had ever run.” Of course, in those days, special trains to sporting events of all kinds were pretty common – and apparently it was also pretty common for passengers in those trains to visit every pub in every community where the trains stopped. I’ve been told that the 1932 special from Kimberley cleaned out the liquor store in Yahk when the train stopped for coal and water.
According to the Creston Review, about 15 cars of Creston people drove over to Kingsgate for the event, despite heavy going due to a snowfall the night before, and “there was quite a procession of Bonners Ferry cars through Creston Sunday morning. People from that locality going to the ski tournament had to come this way as the direct road to Eastport is closed to travel.”
And as for the jumping itself, well, that was impressive. Sure, there were quite a few “thrilling” spills, but even the youngsters were making jumps of more than fifty feet. In the 1933 tournament, the winning jump was 177 feet. To put that into perspective, the longest jump at the 1932 Winter Olympics was Hans Beck’s first-round jump of 71.5 m (about 235 feet).
177 feet doesn’t seem too bad, for logging workers jumping off a home-made hill for fun in their spare time.
Thanks to Tom and Rita Dickson, Roy Johnson, and Bob and Ethel Vigne for sharing their stories of Kingsgate’s unique ski jump!