The ‘Canton Ski Hill’ Was the Gateway to The 1932 Winter Olympics
Every time we take a family road trip to my hometown of Rock Valley, Iowa to visit grandma and papa, my kids always ask, “why don’t we go tubing down that hill“ as we're looking south from Highway 18 just east of Canton, South Dakota.
“I don’t know. Because I’ve never seen anyone tube or ski there." Maybe they do. I’m not sure. But at one time the snowy bluff overlooking the Big Sioux River was a big deal. Like Winter Olympic big.
As South Dakota Public Broadcasting points out in this informative four minutes video, if you were going to get to the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York in 1932, you had to get through the Canton Ski Hill first.
It goes back to when Augustana University was in Canton before moving to Sioux Falls. Norwegian students descended on the campus for a trip who saw the hill and thought it would make an excellent run for a ski jump.
After a student-led effort to clear the trees, it became the Sioux Valley Ski Club. It quickly gained fame throughout the United States.
When some of the best ski jumpers in the world began arriving to try it out fans came in droves. By some estimates of the times, some 20,000 people stood on the hill to watch the best of the best soar through the frozen South Dakota air.
The hill has a great history of winter sports. Unfortunately, a huge storm took out the jump in 1944. The video above is fascinating. Check it out to see which celebrities and athletes showed up, and also an invitation that went unheeded by the American President at the time.
If you get a chance, check out the bronze plaque that still stands along the highway east of Canton. With the Winter Olympics in full swing, it’s fun to see how South Dakota played into them at one time.
Inscription on the marker:
"A 60 foot ski jump tower stood on the river bluff directly south of this sign. Constructed in 1912 at the urging of Norwegian ski jumpers visiting Canton's Augustana College, it soon became widely popular for the tournaments held by the Sioux Valley Ski Club. The 275 foot vertical drop of the hill and tower attracted several major competitions including the U.S. National Tournaments of 1925, 1930 and 1935. The 1932 U.S. Olympic Team trials were held here during which a record jump of 192 feet was made by Sverre Fretheim. Special trams from Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago brought thousands of spectators to the national meets. Large crowds also attended regional meets which were held annually. Because of a lack of snow in 1937, snow from Lake Okoboji was trucked to the site. 300 men carried it up the hill where warm winds turned it into slush. A sudden drop in temperature turned the slush into ice, forcing the cancellation of the meet, and financially breaking the Sioux Valley Ski club. No further tournaments were held. The landmark tower blew down in 1944."
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