Okanagan Sports Hall
of Fame and Museum



Museum Hours
10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Tuesday to Saturday
Archives Hours
10:00 am - 4:30pm
Tuesday to Friday
(limited access on Sat.)
3009 - 32nd Avenue
Vernon, BC
V1T 2L8
Tel: 250-542-3142


Nels Nelson (Nils Johan Nilsen): Revelstoke
Inducted: 1982

Nils Johan Nilsen was born on June 3rd 1894 in Salangen, Norway.  His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled near Revelstoke, British Columbia.  Shortly after his arrival, Nelson was instrumental in the establishment of the Revelstoke Ski Club and the “Big Hill” located within Mount Revelstoke National Park (established in 1914).  The Big Hill was later recognized as the best natural jumping hill in North America, and the equal of any in the world.  


On February 13th, 1919, the Revelstoke Review reported: "The Canadian ski-jumping championship was again landed by Nels Nelsen yesterday for the third time in succession with a largely increased lead for his former record.  With ideal conditions existing on the hill, and in the presence of two thousand people, he made the phenomenal jump of 170 feet, also capturing the prize for form."


By the 1920s, Nels Nelsen was a skiing legend and competed throughout the United States and Canada, becoming Canadian champion five times between the years 1917 and 1922.  His reputation was further enhanced on February 4th, 1925, when he broke the existing world's longest jump record with a leap of 240 feet (73.152 metres) at the Big Hill in Revelstoke.  It was said that Nelson was sick with the flu when he made the jump.


On January 31st, 1929, the Vernon News reported: “Vernon people are to enjoy their first thrills of ski jumping on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd when on the hill west of the race track some of the best known jumpers in the world will put on an exhibition.  Nels Nelson, of Revelstoke, who holds the world’s record of 240 feet made at Revelstoke in 1925, will be one of the jumpers.”  Thousands showed up for the performance and on February 7th, 1929 the Vernon News reported: “Nels Nelson whizzes through the air and travels 1,600 feet down mountain side in 11 seconds – glorious weather contributes to enjoyment of large crowd – Nelson says hill can be made on which to break records.”    


The hill on which Nelson jumped in 1929 was only used the one season before ski jumping activities moved to the slopes above the Vernon Golf Club.  Then, in 1938, a group of young skiing enthusiasts formed the Silver Star Ski Club.  The club’s first hill was at Birnie Range, above Kalamalka Lake.  The club was the third in British Columbia to have a rope tow, and charged 50 cents a day to ski.


On February 9th, 1939 the Vernon News reported: “The Silver Star Ski Club, which will be host to the second annual Okanagan Valley ski championships, on Sunday, February 19th, has completed an addition to the main jump on Birnie Range that should make leaps of 110 to 120 feet possible.  Jumping for men and junior boys will be one of the features of the meet.” 


During the winter of 1932, Nels Nelson was injured in a hunting accident that led to the loss of his hand.  He never jumped again.  He died of heart failure on June 3rd 1943, his birthday, in Field, B.C.  In 1948, after Big Hill had been expanded, it was renamed Nels Nelsen Hill.  Nelsen was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1983, and the following year in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Nelson's ski jumping records include…

  • February 7th 1917: Winner of the Nabob Cup as Champion of Canada with a 147 foot standing jump.
  • February 12th 1918: New Canadian ski jumping record of 147.5 feet.
  • February 12th 1919: Canadian Champion and new record at 170 feet.  Nelson equaled the American amateur record of 177 feet at the same meet.
  • February 19th 1920: 4th successive Canadian Championship at 185 feet; a new world record and world amateur champion.
  • March 4th 1920: 2nd at World Amateur competitions at Dillon, Colorado.  Competitors skied 45 miles to the jump site for the meet.
  • February 10th 1921: Amateur World Champion at 201 feet.
  • February 13th 1923: New world record at 202 feet.
  • February 10th 1925: World amateur record at 240 feet which also broke the professional mark of 229 feet.  He did this while sick with the flu.       

It was said that among Nelson's methods to improve his jumps was placing pieces of lead at the front or back of the skies to give optimal balance.