It's All Downhill: Alpine Skiing in the U.P.
To celebrate a season of fun in the snow, the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center announces the opening of its new exhibition, “It’s All Downhill: Alpine Skiing in the U.P.” This fun, multi-media exhibition will open on Saturday, January 21 at 12 p.m. It will be on display until April 1 and is free and open to the public. The Beaumier Center is located in Gries Hall at the corner of 7th St. and Tracy Ave. on the campus of NMU. The Center’s hours are Monday through Wednesday and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturdays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s All Downhill” focuses on the Alpine ski hills that have existed for the past 80 years across the region. These include the 16 ski hills still in operation across the U.P., from the major resorts to the small-town hills. Each section will tell the history of the ski area and some of the individuals who made them what they are today. There will also be historic photographs from each hill, including some of the ski areas that no longer exist. In addition, there will be sections on U.S. Olympic Alpine skiers and state champion skiers who grew up and trained on the U.P.’s ski hills.
It was the descendants of Scandinavians who brought the pastime of skiing to the Upper Peninsula. During the late 19th and early 20th century, recreational and sport skiing in the U.P. was of the Nordic kind (cross country and jumping). However, where there is a large hill, there will be skiers who will climb up it to ski down the steepest slopes possible. So, before Alpine skiing took off in the U.P., there were Yoopers with a “need for speed.”
The first two ski hills with operating rope tows were Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain and Mont Ripley in Houghton, which were installed by Pabst Brewing Co. scion Fred Pabst, who was instrumental in developing Alpine skiing in the Midwest. Soon other town hills began popping up around the U.P. Eventually major ski resorts such as Indianhead and Big Powderhorn in Gogebic County were developed in the 1950s and 60s, creating a new economic driver in these hard-hit mining towns. Most of these resorts continue to exist today and new ones like Mt. Bohemia have come along to challenge the stereotype that Midwest skiing isn’t challenging.
Over the years there have been several U.S. Ski team members and Olympians from the U.P. including most recently Nick Baumgartner who won the Gold in Mixed Snowboard Cross in the 2022 games in Beijing. Nick grew up training at Ski Brule in Iron River. Mont Ripley has had three skiers who competed in the Olympics including brother and sister Chuck and Barbara Ferries and Mary Seaton. Terry Ahola grew up training at the Gladstone Sports Park and went on to become a member of the U.S. Ski team in the early 1980s.
In addition to all this historic info, “It’s All Downhill” will feature artifacts and memorabilia from some of the ski resorts and Northern Michigan University’s Alpine program, vintage film footage of Cliff’s Ridge (now Marquette Mountain) courtesy of Jack Deo and some interactive video skiing games to get you ready to hit the slopes.