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So long, old friend: Duluth tears down Chester Park ski jumps

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Its predecessor was toppled by the wind three times in a decade. But Big Chester Bowl Ski Jump stood tall on the edge of Duluth for 90 years. Until Tuesday.

MPR News reports an excavator arrived to knock down the old ski jump that was used by generations of Olympians but fell into disrepair in its later years and hadn't hosted a competition in a decade.

Plans call for a new ski jump in Chester Park, possibly even this winter.The decision to knock down the dilapidated structure – along with its younger sibling, Little Chester – was made more than two weeks ago.

The executive director of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club agreed with the city's decision. Thom Storm told WDIO: "From a safety point of view, I think it's really the only option. The boards are rotten, the steel and some of the rivets have popped. It's a dangerous thing."

Nonetheless, the demise of Big Chester is a loss to those who made it part of their lives.

George Hovland, who used the jump as a springboard to the 1952 Olympics in the Nordic combined event, tells MPR "It's like losing an old friend."

The Zenith City Archive contains a passage from the book Lost Duluth on Chester Park's ski jumps. It says the Duluth Ski Club's first structure at the site launched legendary jumper Ole Feiring to a U.S. record of 112 feet in 1908, the year after it was built.

But after the aforementioned blowdowns, the club took another run at it. When Big Chester went up in 1924 the 115 foot slide was the biggest in the world. The Chester Bowl Improvement Club has a page of historic photos of Big Chester, including one of the crowd at the 1926 meet that dedicated the steel jump.

Duluth's community relations director tells WDIO a new ski run could be ready as soon as this winter, with a memorial to Big Chester likely to be ready early in 2016.

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