Silver Mine, ski jumping still a treasured tradition in Eau Claire during 125-year anniversary

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Long before Friday night gridiron games, packed basketball gyms and even baseball, skiing was Eau Claire's first sports love.

"At one time, there were only two sports - ski jumping and log rolling," said Eau Claire Ski Club Hall of Fame member Dave Tomten. "Log rolling wasn't a sport!"

Since 1888, jumpers from all over the world have come to Eau Claire for one of the country's oldest skiing tournaments. The 125-year tradition has roots across Eau Claire, from it's beginnings at Mount Tom to hills at Carson Park and Mount Washington.

"It's a lot of fun to do," said Dan Wold, another Eau Claire Ski Club Hall of Fame member. "Just the camaraderie of the kids and the awesomeness of flying through the air [is what] I think the kids really like."

In 1950, the city's premiere ski jumping event relocated to Hendrickson Hill, built behind today's Sacred Heart hospital. It played host to the United States Olympic training team in 1960. City growth would cause it to shut down, leading to the construction of Silver Mine Hill in 1968 and it's first competition a year later.

"Billy Olson from Eau Claire was the first rider off it, Larry Berg was second, and I was the third rider, and I was 16 years old at the time," Tomten said.

Throughout its 125-year history, this hill and the Silver Mine Ski Invitational have been a hub for the world's top athletes. It's competitors include numerous Olympians, Europe's rising stars, and Eau Claire's best skiers.

"Maybe nine or ten, going out to Silver Mine to watch the jumpers, it was just so amazing to me," said Silver Mine Chief of Competition Dan Mattoon.

Silver Mine is one of only five hills in the country that are Olympic-caliber, 90-meter jumps. The hill has hosted three national championships. The challenge and the thrill of performing a successful jump is what inspires competitors to keep coming back.

"It's quite an awesome sight," Wold said. "It's just fun to come out and see people you hadn't seen for a year maybe, and it's fun to watch the skiers fly."

For some of Silver Mine's organizers, skiing's not only a sport, it's a lifelong passion, one that's brought countless stories, friends and a humbling sense of honor.

"I've been around for 40 years of ski jumping," Mattoon said. "To have it go 125 [years] and next 126, it's pretty proud to be a part of that organization."

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