Thanks to recent funding from the Michigan legislature, there is a lot in store for the future of Copper Peak - the ski flying hill in Ironwood, Michigan.
As part of our We Live Up Here series, Monie Shackleford tells us about Copper Peak’s backstory, as well as what we can expect for its future.
In late December of 2018, the Michigan legislature funded 10 million dollars to two ski jumps of the western upper peninsula: Copper Peak, near Ironwood and Pine Ski Jump in Iron Mountain.
Copper Peak is not just a ski jump, it is one of only six ski flying hills in the world and the only ski flying hill in the western hemisphere. A ski flying hill is basically a very large ski jump. To understand the size of the Copper Peak jump, consider this: visitors take a chairlift up the hill, followed by a 18 story elevator and then walk up 8 flights of stairs. The existence of this gigantic jump reflects the deep history and passion of ski jumping in the region. Charlie Supercynski has been the President of Copper Peak Incorporated since 1998 and remembers the neighborhood ski jumps in Bessemer.
“Me and my brothers and a couple friends, we built a small hill we could jump about 75 feet. That is how I got involved. And I jumped some of the small hills in this area. And you know there were probably a dozen or 15 20 hills at different neighborhoods where the kids in that neighborhood built them themselves and they would last a couple years and then they were gone.”
The Ironwood area had two ski jumps with national ski jump competitions before Copper Peak was built. The concept of creating the largest man-made ski jump in the world was envisioned in 1935. It took a dedicated group of supporters 35 years to engineer such a large jump and get the funds to build it in 1969. The first ski jumping competition was held in 1970 and the last one to date was in 1994.
“Over the life of activity til 94, we had 10 events. Some great events, some international skiers here. And so forth.”
Although Copper Peak has not had ski jumping for decades, dedicated volunteers have kept up the facilities and worked diligently to raise money and have the “Adventure Ride” available from May through October during which people can take take the chair lift, elevator and stairs to the top of the structure for beautiful views.
New hope for Copper Peak which led to the recent grant actually came from Europe. Bob Jacquart who is CEO of Jacquart Fabric Products in Ironwood and the Copper Peak Event Organizer explains.
“Ski jumping became the number one watched winter sport in Europe about 6 years ago. And it started growing like crazy. And the world cup event which is the top tier of ski jumping hasn’t been to the United States since the Olympics.
FIS is the governing body of ski jumping internationally: Federation of International Skiing. And FIS Ski Jumping director Walter Hofer wanted ski jumping in North America. And it turns out that most of his board members who are in their sixties at one time jumped off of Copper Peak and have phenomenal memories of Copper Peak. Those guys all said, “Well, if we are going to North America, Let’s get Copper Peak going. And we actually have a letter from FIS that they will come back at a minimum of 10 years.”
The big obstacle with getting Copper Peak going has been due to the slope of the hill below the jump. The slope is too steep due to the new technique of ski jumping. Bob Jacquart explains.
“Since Copper Peak jumped in 1994, the world record has almost doubled with slower takeoff speeds because the athletes have figured out how to turn themselves into a wing as opposed to just jumping. When they jumped off Copper Peak last time their legs were parallel like they were skiing. Now their skis are in a V which is holding more air up. And they have learned how to position their hands. So they are staying up longer. So that different flight now needs a softer landing.”
The other large improvement that is planned for Copper Peak is to transform it into a summer ski jump.
Summer ski jumping has become a popular spectator sport in Europe in recent years. There is a summer competition and a number of hills have been adapted to summer jumping. To do this they need to add a plastic track on the jump which will have water run on it and a plastic grassy looking material covering the hill itself which will be sprinkled with water during the jumping. There are good reasons to make it a summer ski hill.
“The weather is always better. The fans will have a better time. It will just be more enjoyable. We don’t have to do any hill preparation. In the old days, the hardest part to groom was the tower because there is no way to get snow up there. They took snow up the elevator in five gallon pails and then went up to the top and just poured it down And it slid down on plastic until it got to the spot they needed. And then skiers had skis on and they stomped on it with their skis. You know, two days before the meet it is 35 degrees and it melts. Copper Peak is going to be the largest ski jump in the world with a summer surface on it. So as soon as somebody jumps off of Copper Peak in the summer, Ironwood will have the summer world record, and we could have it for a very very long time.”
If all of the funding is secured and the improvements are completed over two years as expected, the first competition of snow-less ski jumping is planned for September of 2020.
“So Copper Peak has been offered the last event of the summer series. We will crown the summer world champion. Its pretty exciting to think that this thing will seen by millions of people around the world. They will see us in fall color. And the one thing that no ski jump has. They all have those beautiful mountain views. But nobody can go on the top of a ski jump and look to their left and see the biggest lake in the world.”
Monie Shackleford lives in Gile, Wisconsin with her two children and husband and loves biking, cross-county skiing, and traveling.
This story is part of our We Live Up Here series, where we tell the stories of the people and culture of northern Wisconsin. The photo above is used with permisson from Copper Peak Inc. via Charles Supercynski. Music for this story came from Blue Dot Sessions: Haena by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.