The Ogden Dunes Ski Jump wasn’t built to entertain Hoosiers or attract tourism. It was built to shatter world records. Even among the Lake Michigan’s hulking dunes, this wood-and-steel structure would be a giant among giants. The 192-foot tower coupled with the crest of a hillside roughly equal in height, mixing artificial know-how with one of Indiana’s natural wonders. That could be a lovely metaphor for the state, if the jump itself wasn’t so terrifying.
In 1927, when construction began in earnest on the monster jump, Gustave Holm, the Ogden Dunes Ski Club’s chief engineer, told reporters “We estimate that the speed of the riders as they leave the slide will be more than 60 miles per hour, and the maximum jump should be more than 200 feet.”
In 1927, the amateur world record was 212 feet. The top speed of that year’s most popular car, the Ford Model A, was just over 60 miles per hour.
Riders would plummet from a height of 30 stories, bullet down a slope as long as a World War I aircraft carrier, rocket into the air a hundred feet over the spectators’ heads, and (hopefully) land upright almost a football field away.
Designers constructed the tower of solid steel, but masked the industrialized metal with traditional wood. The tower was constructed so it could be uncoupled from the hillside at the end of the season for repairs and maintenance, then returned before jumpers or tourists arrived. The Great Ski Jump at Ogden Dunes was not for amusement. The club built this engineering and athletic marvel, touted as “The Highest Ski Jump in the United States,” to demolish amateur records and dominate the death-defying competitive winter sport.
For decades, the abundance of clear, clean sand at Ogden Dunes (much like the extinct Hoosier Slide in Michigan City) had been sold to the glass industry, but once the easily accessible sand disappeared, sand mining there was no longer cost effective. New owners drafted grand plans for a resort community, complete with golf course, swimming pools, and luxury hotels, but these never manifested.
It wasn’t until the Great Ski Jump took shape in 1927 that Ogden Dunes became a Hoosier hotspot. The ski club fully expected the venture to increase business along the entire Indiana lakeshore, “snowballing” into natural attractions, resorts, rides, and restaurants. The dream came at a substantial cost: the tower and nearby lodging alone cost almost $40,000 (about $600,000 today). That’s a massive venture in a town with a few homes, streets made only of sand, and an amateur sports club.
The Ogden Dunes Ski Club enjoyed the accolades and envy of the sporting community for four years. The jump hosted dozens of professional, semi-professional, and amateur jump meets, attracting people from all over the Midwest. Estimates at each event range from 7,000 to 20,000, a massive audience even today for a winter sport. In 1932, the Ogden Dunes Ski Jump achieved the international renown it desired when the Norwegian Olympic Team arrived in Indiana to try the legendary jump. They were impressed.
It wasn’t hubris or greed that killed the Great Ski Jump, but a national disaster: the Great Depression. By the early 1930s, the members of the Ogden Dunes Ski Club suddenly found themselves cash-strapped. Even before the Great Depression, club finances had been thin. Little snow had fallen over the last two winters, and the club had to ship in snow at their own expense. After the 1932 season, the ski club had to view the jump not as an attraction to shatter world records, but as a commodity. As heartbreaking as it must have been, the club sold the jump to the Rockford Ski Club out of northern Illinois in 1936.
In Rockford, the ski slide became one of the most popular jumps in the world, and frequently hosted Olympic teams training for winter games in the 1940s. In 1955, the Rockford Ski Club sold the slide to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where it became known as the “Big Hendrickson Hill.” In 1968, it moved to another hill in Eau Claire and was renamed the “Silver Mine Hill.”
Today, the nearly 100-year-old Ogden Dunes Ski Jump, still named “Silver Mine Hill,” launches thousands of jumpers into the air at breakneck speeds every winter.
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