The interest that competitors, towns, and the NSA took in the skisport was not merely concern for a fair competition. Communities jealously guarded their jumping success because good jumping brought renown and money to a town. When Mikkel Hemmetsveit showed his Holmenkollen winning form in a St. Paul tournament, citizens tried to persuade him to move there.
Guarded their ski jumping success
But he was not going to forsake Norman County whose ski club had been specifically founded so that when he won the one hundred dollar prize “Ada and Norman County [would] get a share of the honor.” The local paper imagined all the neighboring sleepy towns green with envy. A suggestion was even made to send him to the senate “as he appears to be the only man in the Red River Valley that can attract the attention of that august body.”
The next year he moved to St. Croix Falls, even though Stillwater, “a city of push and enterprise” thought of him as “our champion.” When he again won the prize at the St. Paul carnival, “in its greed for glory” St. Paul claimed him as its own, as did Stillwater, much to the disgust of the residents of St. Croix Falls. When Mikkel moved to Red Wing later, the Aurora Club immediately elected him a member before the season began.
The local town provided the bulk of the audience for a local meet, but as towns increased the competition for recognition, advertising over a wide area brought in thousands of spectators. Excursion rates on railroads, specially built grandstands, and promotions by hotels and restaurants acted as incentives to bring thousands into town on competition day. When large cash prizes attracted the best riders, even more people came and then clubs competed for which could put up the most prize money.
By 1901 there was already a classification of “experts,” invited jumpers from out of town who had all expenses paid and a shot at the seventy-five-dollar first prize. As the leaps lengthened, “Knights of the Spruce Blades” and “Cloud Hurdlers” were advertised with promises of breaking the one-hundred-foot barrier. This class of professionals provided what was often termed “the real riding.” A special event for length only was given due billing too: tumblejumping, the desperate stretch for length, became an anticipated attraction of many meets.
Prize money caused much soul searching among those who believed that jumping competitions should be simon-pure. Although money had been awarded to winners in Norwegian tournaments, the outright bid for cash never had the materialistic attraction in Scandinavia that it did for the immigrants in America.
When formal jumping competitions began in the 1880s, the prizes were medals of known worth; Ishpeming’s gold medal for first place was valued at twenty-six dollars. By the time Mikkel Hemmetsveit made his mark, thirty-five dollars in gold was being given for first place, along with shaving sets, mugs, scarves, and other wares secured from local businesses. In 1901 Ishpeming promised seventy-five dollars for the winner of the expert class. For the amateurs, the top prize was fifteen dollars.
Money was the attraction, and the amounts increased almost annually as local tournament organizers offered “extra inducements to good riders” besides the chance for the one-hundred-dollar first prize. In 1908 the North Star Ski Club distributed $220, the Cameron put up $69, the Red Wing, $175, the Itasca, $240, and the Superior, $200.59 These prizes for a successful jumper represented a lot of money at a time when two to three dollars a day was the going wage for a miner in the copper belt of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Ole Feiring’s winnings one season comprised: thirty-five dollars at one tournament, a first, second, and third at three other tournaments where cash prizes of unknown amounts were awarded, one sixty-dollar prize and two others of fifty dollars each.
There is very little indication that these men trained; they all held other jobs. Towns promised employment to well-known jumpers and some of the men actively sought work in skiing communities.61 They were expected to instruct the boys with the hope of providing a continual supply of excellent jumpers, thereby bringing to themselves and the town honor, glory, and money.