A skier glides down Suicide Hill, circa 1959 (Photo by Michigan Tourist Council).
Suicide Hill’s very name intimidates skiers. The Ishpeming Ski Club, however, describes it as “fine, competitive and safe” (See the Ishpeming Ski Club Web Site). Ski jump enthusiasts hold the hill – and its rich history – in high esteem.
In the Beginning
The Norden Ski Club – renamed the Ishpeming Ski Club in 1901 – held its first formal ski jump competition in 1888. The competition site was south of Lake Angeline, near Ishpeming, Michigan. An annual tradition did not immediately follow. The Club did, however, host competitions in some subsequent years. Various hills in the Ishpeming region served as competition sites.
In 1925, the Ishpeming Ski Club launched a search for a new hill. Peter Handberg and Leonard Flaa, then officers of the Club, found what would be called Suicide Hill. The Hill is located off what is now M-28, between Ishpeming and Negaunee. The Cleveland Cliffs mining company owned the land, and a lease was quickly negotiated.
In the autumn of 1925, development work began on the hill. It proved a community effort. Local citizens donated materials and volunteered their labor. The hill was cleared, graded and shaped. Finally, the Ishpeming Ski Club announced the first competition on the hill. This occurred on February 26, 1926.
“A Little Color”
Ted Butler, a local newspaper reporter, apparently gave the hill its nickname. An Ishpeming skier named Walter “Huns” Anderson was injured a few days before the 1926 meet. Butler wrote about this, using the phrase “Suicide Hill” in his story. “Sure, it’s a good hill, but why not add a little color to it?,” he reportedly said. James Flaa of the Ishpeming Ski Club protested the name, claiming that it created a bad impression and kept skiers away.
Today, eighty-six years later, skiers are still coming to Suicide Hill. They come from many countries and gather for the annual competitions, traditionally held in February.
The annual Suicide Hill Ski Tournament will be held next on February 8, 2012. Suicide Hill waits quietly for the day, ready to challenge a new wave of daring skiers.