Olympian with intimate connection to "Big Chester" recalls Duluth's ski jumps

By KBJR News 1

August 23, 2014 Updated Aug 23, 2014 at 11:40 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Ski jumps are becoming as rare as the proverbial hens teeth in the Northland. Ely's is long gone and now, so are Big Chester and Little Chester in Duluth.

City of Duluth officials say engineer reports indicate the landmark jumps were too expensive to keep.

"The information provided showed it would take one million dollars or more just to restore them, not even to make them useable," said Paula Reed, with the city, "over a million dollars to make them useable again."

Not far from Chester Bowl lives 88 year old George Hovland. He's been skiing since the age of two.

"My father took our Christmas tree, put it down, shoveled snow on it, set me on little skis and went down," remenisced Hovland, "terrifying!"

A few years later, Hovland and his friends got up the nerve to look at the Chester Park ski jumps.

"I remember I was 11 years old and most of the other kids were about the same age, and we stood up there and argued who was going to go first because we didn't know if we were going to survive it," said Hovland in his home, filled with old pictures of his time at Chester Bowl.

Hovland survived and practice on the Chester jumps would lead him to the 1952 Olympics in Norway.

"I was lucky enough to make the Olympic team in what's called combine," said Hovland, "that's jumping and cross country."

After the Olympics, Hovland would go on to become a co–owner of Mont Du Lac and one of the driving forces behind the foundation of Spirit Mountain.

He's said to see the Chester Bowl ski jumps come down and thinks the city could have saved them.

"Big Chester was such an iconic symbol of an era," said Hovland, "and it didn't need a lot of work."

Now that the jumps are gone, City of Duluth officials say plans are in the works to make a memorial on the site of the jumps to honor people like George Hovland.

"Hopefully, it'll be something that will help people for generations remember and get a better idea of what all happened here," said Hovland.

Some of the few remaining ski jumps in the Northland can be found in Cloquet and Coleraine, Minnesota.

Another still exists in Iron Mountain, Michigan.

Dave Anderson