The crowd was in an ugly mood.
They had come to see the best ski jumpers in the country compete for supremacy at the famed Mount Revelstoke ski jump in Revelstoke at the 1931 Dominion championships. The fans had travelled for hours, some for days, on specially chartered trains, ferries and on winter roads to make it here to witness the spectacle on the jump now known as the Nels Nelsen ski jump.
They came to see men famed for their fearlessness take on a jump known for putting fear in jumpers’ hearts.
The spectators were to be disappointed.
Some of the visiting jumpers balked at the idea of hurtling themselves off the imposing jump. “They had a look at that hill and they were scared silly,” says Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English. “’We’re not jumping off of that hill. It’s unsafe,’” they protested.
To the dismay of the crowd, organizers with the Canadian Ski Association relented to their complaints, moving the competition to the smaller, gentler ‘boys’ hill,’ located right beside the main jump.
The crowd booed the jumpers as they took runs on a jump normally used by Revelstoke schoolboys, or for tandem couples’ jumping.
Revelstoke native and one-time ski jump world record holder Bob Lynburne shared their dismay.
He wasn’t at the 1931 championships to jump from the boys’ hill.
Lynburne looks like the lumberjack on a pancake mix box. Archival images show a smiling, stalky, bold-featured man standing in the snow amidst evergreens. The adjective ‘outdoorsy’ could have been coined to describe him. In winters, he was known to rise early, summit Mount Begbie by noon, eat his lunch of raisins, oranges and raw eggs, and ski back to Revelstoke by 4 p.m.
To the crowd’s pleasure, Lynburne climbed to the top of the big jump, strapped in and took his run. He soared hundreds of feet through the air to a graceful landing.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
The judges weren’t as impressed and refused to recognize the jump, which was obviously way bigger than anyone else’s that day. They wrote it off as an ‘exhibition’ jump.
The newspaper editorial department shared the crowd’s dismay. “The Canadian Ski Association has amply proved itself to be a joke,” they wrote.
“Give us our money back. Are they afraid?” the editorialist taunted.
Lynburne went on to win the World and Canadian Championships on the big jump in Revelstoke in 1932 and 1933, his longest jump a 287-footer in 1933. He also competed at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1932, finishing 18th.
The visiting jumpers either went big or stayed home those years.
Cathy English Heritage Week presentation
PHOTO: Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English holding a pair of skis owned by Andrew Rupert Westerberg, AKA “Ole the Bear.’ Ole came to Revelstoke via Sweden around 1900. For 35 years he delivered mail along a trail up the Big Bend to French Creek – a 160-kilometre round trip. He was a prolific bear hunter, killing 36 in one spring alone. He was rumoured to have killed one with a hand axe, and also survived a surprise close encounter with a grizzly.
The ‘big fiasco’ at the 1931 championships was one of several fascinating stories about Revelstoke’s rich skiing heritage highlighted by museum curator Cathy English during a B.C. Heritage week presentation on Feb. 23.
Entitled, Norwegian Snowshoes, the presentation looked back on 120 years of local skiing history.
Back in 1891, pioneer skier Old Sandberg was known to ski to mines in Albert Canyon and back using long, 8-foot skis, and a single long pole. The activity was new enough at the time that the newspaper saw it fit to physically describe skis, including their length, width, noting they were “turned up in front like the bow of a canoe.”
Early photos from around 1891 also show early signs of club-like groups.
By 1892, skis were being sold at a Front Street shop.
The earliest ski jump appeared at the base of Mount Revelstoke in 1915 and was home turf for Revelstoke jumping legends like Nels Nelsen and Isabel Coursier. There were a few jumps over the years and jumping was very popular, eventually dying out in the mid-’70s when lifts on Mount Mackenzie drew the action and the youth away from Mount Revelstoke.
The Mount Mackenzie Ski Development Company opened its lifts on Boxing Day, 1963. The partnership featured developer Paul Mair and local logger Don Sinclair.
English talked of many big ski jumping competitions that attracted international competitors. At the time, “Revelstoke was one of the most well-connected spots,” she explained. Special trains were chartered, ferries plied the Arrow Lakes, making Revelstoke easily accessible in an era before air travel.
Lesser known chapters in local ski history were explored. ‘Ski joring’ sees riders pulled by animals, usually dogs. Revelstoke archive images show competitors pulled by horses. “It was eventually outlawed as being too dangerous,” English said.
These are just a few of the names and stories from the presentation. English says the Revelstoke Museum & Archives is exploring the possibility of putting together a new book focusing on Revelstoke’s ski history.
In the meantime, the museum published Reflections: Four Decades of Photographs by Earle & Estelle Dickey in November of 2010. The couple were both photographers and took many images of Revelstoke, including ski photos. The images span from 1917 to 1965.
Editor’s note: Until recently, Lynburne’s family name was thought to be spelled differently. Cathy English recently uncovered the correct spelling.