Competitive skiing as a sport developed in Norway in the later part of the 19th century. Sondre Norheim, who is recognized as the “Father of Ski Jumping”, won the first-ever ski jumping competition which was held in Høydalsmo in 1866. Later, Norheim migrated to the United States and started developing the sport in that country. By the 1920s, skiing had become a popular enough sport to be included in the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, also helped to further spread the sport’s popularity in the United States. Riding on this new wave of popularity, many large American sports stadiums began staging ski jumping events.
A temporary ski jump erected at Soldier Field, in Chicago, in 1936.
In 1936, Soldier Field in Chicago hosted the first such competition. A towering 180-foot ramp was built using timber that sloped down from the top of the stands to the middle of the field. Over this crushed ice was sprinkled. The event proved so successful that the ski jump was built again the following year. 140 jumpers competed in the event in front of nearly 60,000 spectators. The competition was held yet again in 1938, after which there was a 16-year hiatus. The final event took place in 1954.
Soldier Field wasn’t the only stadium to play host to ski-jumping competitions. Many American cities began hosting similar events in equally unusual places. Ski jumping competitions were held in Berkeley in 1934, the Hollywood Bowl in 1935, at the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939, in Los Angeles Coliseum in both 1938 and 1939, in Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, in 1944, and in Multnomah Civic Stadium in Portland in 1953.
In Canada, the Empire Stadium in Vancouver hosted a ski-jumping competition in 1958, with a vertigo-inducing 165-foot tall ramp built as part of the fairground’s special events and attractions to celebrate the centennial anniversary of British Columbia’s incorporation into a British colony. The jump’s structure was built using tubular steel and crushed ice was used for the jump and landing pad. The ski jumpers would glide down, slide onto the field and into a pile of straw at the stadium’s south end.
Although nearly 25,000 people paid to watch the event, it was not enough to turn the show into a financial success, thanks to over 60,000 freeloaders who chose to watch it from parked cars and camp chairs on sloping streets above the stadium.
The last time such a structure was erected was in 1963 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, as part of the Giant International Ski Show and Grindelwald Ski Swap.