Minneapolis Park Memory: Ski Jumping at Wirth Park

I have received several very interesting comments from Jim Balfanz on my post about the history of ski jumping in Minneapolis. Today he sent me this photo of him (left) and his brother John, both champion skiers, in a double jump at Wirth Park in 1956. Jim copied the photo from the West High School yearbook of 1956. The original photo was “courtesy of the Minneapolis Tribune.”

In his comments, Jim has provided the names of many people who were important in Minneapolis ski jumping at a time when Minneapolis was producing national champions and Olympians.

If anyone else has memories, stories or photos to add either as comments on that post or in e-mails to me, I’d be delighted to post them.

Thanks to Jim and also to Jay Martin for his comments.

David C. Smith


2 comments so far

  1. Jim Krave on

    One can’t mention ski-jumping in Wirth park without mentioning Selmar Swanson who conducted a ski-jumping clinic at the Wirth slide for 30 or 40 years. He would start with balance and all pupils would learn how to ski the out-run (the landing hill) and how to telemark, the classic one knee down landing position required in competition. He would then instruct on the jump, which is a springing forward over the skis from a tuck position. This would be taught on flat ground and eventually tried out on the practice hill just south of the actual ski jump and north of the Chalet.

    After much repetition and coaching, you would climb the steps up the landing hill with skis on your shoulder. This got you to the bottom of the slide (the jump). At this point you climbed a few stairs and the steps that ran beside the in-run (the jump itself). When you got to the box on top, you were at a flat spot that featured a great view of the Mpls. skyline. It also accommodated 8 or 9 skiers prepared to schuss down the slide to the two pine sprigs that marked where the jump ended and the skier would become airborne.

    As Wirth was only a 25 meter slide in a world where 60 and 90 meters had become the norm there was a wide divergence of jumping talent which would practice and compete at the Wirth slide. The serious jumpers would talk about their exploits at Bush Lake, Chester Park, or Westby. The rest of us would be happy to land on our skis, remain upright, and make a skater’s stop at the bottom of the landing hill, which kept us out of Bassets Creek.

    My most vivid memory is the one Sunday afternoon I went out to practice. As I was grabbing my 225 cm Fischers out of the car I looked up at the slide and a skier was going down the in-run. He jumped early and his ski tips went down and they caught in the landing hill. He did a perfect somersault and then another one with skis and ended up like a crumpled rag doll at the bottom. I think the ambulance arrived shortly after I got to the Chalet and carted him away.

    • David C. Smith on

      The view from the top of that slide must have been spectacular. Thanks, Jim.

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