leaping into winter
November 27, 2020
As we draw on our strength and resiliency as a community to make it through this pandemic in as safe and healthy way as possible, many residents are looking forward to a season of winter sports to help get us through this time, “together, apart”.
Some may be using this opportunity to take up winter sports for the first time. In 1929, it seems Vernon residents were both curious and enthusiastic about discovering more about what for most would be a brand new sport – ski jumping.
Vernon residents line up to watch ski jump demonstration in 1929 exhibition on Turtle Mountain and the site of current day Nel’s Leap hiking trail, part of the Grey Canal trail system.
On February 3, 1929, cars lined the unpaved roads of what are now 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive. Ski jumpers Nels Nelson, E. Engen, Ole Olson and Karl Wallenstein were putting on an exhibition at the ski jump hill above the Kin Race Track, and the event drew hundreds of onlookers.
On January 31, 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.”
Nels Nelson was born in 1894 in Salangen, Norway. His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled near Revelstoke, British Columbia. There, Nels quickly became involved with the skiing scene, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Revelstoke Ski Club. Nels became a competitive ski-jumper, and earned a number of trophies over the years. By the 1920s, Nels was considered a skiing legend, competing as far away as the United States; in fact, he was the Canadian Champion ski jumper for five years between 1917 and 1922. In 1925, Nels broke the world amateur ski jumping record at 240 feet, which also broke the professional mark of 229 feet. He did this all while sick with the flu.
The Vernon exhibition was a great success; a few days later, on February 7, 1929, the Vernon News reported that “Nels Nelson [had whizzed] through the air and [traveled] 1,600 feet down mountain side in 11 seconds – glorious weather [contributed] to enjoyment of large crowd – Nelson says hill can be made on which to break records.”
Despite Nels approval of the hill, it was only used for one season before ski jumping activities moved to the slopes above the Vernon Golf Club.
As for Nels, his career was cut short only a few short years after his appearance in Vernon. During the winter of 1932, Nels was injured in a hunting accident that led to the loss of his hand. He never jumped again.
Nels passed away in 1943, but his many feats have not been forgotten. Nels was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1983, and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. The Revelstoke “Big Hill” was renamed Nels Nelson hill in 1948. In 2014, Kalamalka Rotary revealed the culmination of a more than three years of work with the opening of Nels’ Leap Trail, accessed from the top of 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive, near where Nel’s made his historic leap in 1929.