Leavenworth, WA, is a town of about 2,000 people located in an Alpine valley on the Eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains. Today, Leavenworth is known as a Bavarian themed tourist destination but for the better part of the last century it was nationally known for ski jumping. At its peak in the 50’s and 60’s thousands of spectators would take the “Ski Trains” from Spokane and Seattle to watch the events.
The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club was founded in 1928 and the first Jumping tournament took place the following year in 1929. In 1933 a K73 was constructed making the Leavenworth hill one of the largest in the US. Then in 1936 the Civilian Conservation Corp built rope tows and the iconic log cabin lodge at the base of the large hill outrun. Rather ahead of its time; lights were installed on the jumps and Nordic trails in 1940.
Through the 30’s and early 40’s multiple national distance records were set at Leavenworth including a flight of 273’ in 1941. Things really took off in the 50’s and 60’s when Herman & Magnus Bakke (National Ski Jumping Hall of Famers) organized the upgrading of the jumping complex to national standards. At that time, 40, 60, and 90-meter jumps were built. For 46 years an annual National/International level tournament was hosted, and the U.S. National Championships were held here in 1941, ’59, ’67, ’74, ‘and ’78.
As a small mountain town, nearly everyone was involved; whether as a spectator, participant, or hill crew. This community involvement was put to the test during the 1967 national championships. A warm rain melted all the snow just days before the event. Undeterred, the community loaded trucks with snow from higher in the mountains and filled apple crates which were passed up the landing hill and in-run by hundreds of volunteers. With the jump sufficiently “snowed” the event carried on.
The deep tradition of skiing in Leavenworth allowed many locals athletes to compete nationally and internationally. Most notably was Ron Steele who won the Jr. National Championships in 1971, and the Senior National Championships in 1974. In 1972 Ron was the top-placed US jumper at the Sapporo Japan Winter Olympics. More recently, Torrin Koos skied for the US in the 2002, ’06, & ’10 Olympics in the Nordic Sprint events.
The last jumping tournament was held in 1978 and by the early 80’s interest in jumping began to wane. The jumping hills went largely unused through the 1990’s. However, in 2003 Kjell Bakke (a nationally ranked jumper, son of Magnus and nephew of Herman) championed the re-construction of the “D” hill. A K15 and K27 were built. This was just the time I was entering the sport at the ripe age of 37. I have fond memories of cold October weekends building the in-run trestle while coffee heated on a fire of wood scraps from the construction. That winter a collection of older “Masters” who had jumped when they were much younger, and a host of new young jumpers took to the hill. Under the guidance of Kjell and other volunteers, Jumping was back on in Leavenworth (albeit on a much smaller scale!)
As far as I know we are the only active jumping hill west of the Rockies; Park City 900 miles away being the next closest facility in the US and Whistler BC is a 4.5 hour drive into Canada. Over time, the experienced jumpers have begun to disappear so we are largely self-taught and self-coached. Nevertheless, most weekend days and Wednesday nights, there will be a group of jumpers on the hill honing their skills or just having fun. The season ends with the Bakke Cup; a 3-way tournament (Alpine, Nordic, and Jumping) for skiers 18 and under. It’s a far cry from the crowds of 15,000 at the base of the 90M but the sport remains alive and a new generation can call themselves “Leavenworth Jumpers.”
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