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Forget the fancy helmets, the sleek compression suits, and the high-tech bindings of today’s Olympic sport. In the 1920s, Milwaukee’s ski jumpers simply pulled on their woolen caps and sweaters, strapped wooden skis on their feet, and pushed off to sail through the chilly air above the Milwaukee River.
Gordon Park’s spindly steel slide, built by the Milwaukee Ski Club in 1925, was the scene of tournaments that drew the Midwest’s best jumpers for nearly a decade. The daredevils could reach speeds of 80 mph at the bottom of the chute. If they stuck the landing, their momentum was enough to carry them all the way across the river, where a small mountain of hay kept them from crashing into the bank at Riverside Park.
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The Milwaukee Sentinel called ski jumping “the most spectacular of all outdoor sports,” and few of its readers disagreed. Gordon Park’s tournaments, including the 1927 event pictured here, regularly drew 20,000 people.
The fun ended in 1936. As budgets shrank and newer venues outside the city opened, the Gordon Park ski jump was demolished and sold for scrap.
The scar on the hillside has long since healed, and today only treetops pierce the air where men on skis once soared like birds.
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