A Michigan tradition : ski jumpers launching themselves off of the jump at Suicide Hill or Suicide Bowl in Ishpeming. According to the Historical Society of Michigan, the first jump occurred on February 16, 1926.
Several areas and hills were used before Suicide Hill came into existence. The first formal tournament was held on February 25, 1888, by the Norden Ski Club (renamed the Ishpeming Ski Club in 1901). During the early years, hills were fashioned out of snow pushed up against boards to form the scaffold, then snow was piled up for the bump or takeoff, and smoothed out for the landing. The Norwegians and Finns had differing views on ski jumping as the Finnish skiers used poles. At one point the Ski Club decided to let the Finnish boys in the club, poles and all. However, during one meet, when the best skiers had difficulty reaching long distances, and fell during competition, it was blamed on the Finnish boys as their poles ruined the track, attesting to the high level of competitiveness between nationalities in those early years. Competitions were held at hills which include Brasswire, circa 1901, Jackson Hill, circa 1907, East New York Hill, circa 1923, Rocky Walter Huns Anderson, circa 1924, with scaffolds built of man-made materials that provoked a certain amount of fear and danger, adding to the heightened spectra of adventure and daring, and giving way to tournaments exhibiting “death defying feats” by the town’s local jumpers.
Club officials kept looking for a better hill with greater capacity. Credit for discovering Suicide Hill goes to Peter Handberg and Leonard Flaa, at the time active officers of the Ishpeming Ski Club. Engineering authorities had previously advised the club that 165 feet was the maximum they could jump in the Old Jackson Hill and efforts were launched in 1925 to locate new hills. Flaa and Handberg, recalling remarks of those who had tramped that district, searched the territory and decided on the locale. They settled on the present location in Section 12, Negaunee; and negotiated a lease from Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company. Representative citizens and service club officers were invited to make an inspection, and when they concurred with the Flaa-Handberg findings, development work started. Work started in the autumn of 1925 on clearing, grading, and shaping the hill. Ishpeming turned in another of its famous performances for community effort – Suicide Hill was built by volunteer labor and donated materials. The effort was rewarded with scheduled a completion and the first meet on Suicide Hill to be held February 26, 1926.
Suicide, carved out of a pine forest, nestled among rocky bluffs, looks forbidding and formidable, as the man-made scaffold peers over the tree tops. The scaffold towers 140 feet towards the sky. Its structure is supported by 4 x 8″ I-beams bolted to a 4 to 5 foot cement pilar foundation, 2 x 4″ angle irons connecting the massive I-beams, and 4 x 8″ x 2.7 meter I-beams, with Douglas fir flooring, and particle board sideboards, stretching a length of 90 kilometers. Its scaffold can be seen towering over the tops of trees at several locations throughout Ishpeming and Negaunee.
Suicide Hill got its name when in 1926 Walter “Huns” Anderson was injured on the hill. The local newspaper reporter, Ted Butler, said “Sure it’s a good hill, but why not have a little color about it. I gave it the name a few days before it was used in 1926. Walter Anderson fell in practice a few days before the meet and was badly hurt. In the stories I sent out about him, I called it Suicide Hill and the name stuck”. “We don’t like the name ‘Suicide Hill,” James Flaa, club official protested, “because it keeps riders away. It creates the wrong impression of what troubles await them”. Actually, it’s one of the best hills in the country. Even Johanna Kolstad, the fine Norwegian woman skier, says she has only seen one better hill in the country. But the name did stick, and it has turned out to be a fine, competitive, and safe hill.
Johanna Boyle, “Ski jumpers take to the air at Suicide Bowl”, Mining Journal, February 9, 2012.