Maybe you’ve seen it.
There’s a new skyscraper in town.
It pierces the clouds from atop Mount Washington on the west edge of Eau Claire.
That’s right. It’s the 100-foot high steel, cantilevered tower of the Flying Eagles new 55-meter ski jump.
In a city tradition-rich in the sport, it marks another step forward in a history that reaches back 133 years.
“It can be seen from all over the west side, and we hope people will be interested in what’s going on,” said project chairman Matt Gundry. “It will be lit up with decorative lighting and will stand out at night.”
The $750,000 project at the historic site helps keep Eau Claire, which had two athletes compete in the recent World Championships in Austria, at the center of ski jumping in the country.
The new structure replaces the former slide that was built into the top of the hill in an area that has been a center for city ski jumping for well over a century.
“What it does is bridge the gap to Silver Mine for our young skiers,” Gundry said. “It was difficult for them to go from a 40-meter to a 90-meter, and this will make the step more gradual.”
It will allow jumps of up to 60 meters, or 200 feet, which is in comparison to the record of 96 meters, or 315 feet, at Silver Mine Hill. The former record at Mount Washington was 154 feet set by former U.S. ski team member Adam Loomis but distances generally did not reach out of the 130s.
The impact of the new facility will go far beyond the city. With the installation of the plastic mats, it will act as an ideal year-around training center for Central Division jumpers, including those from the rest of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois.
“This has long been a dream of the club to remodel the hill,” said Dan Mattoon, who is responsible for the original idea and whose home on Skyline Drive is near the hill. “This gives us one of the best junior ski jumping training centers in the nation and shows how we have been able to grow.”
Gundry, who is the father of three promising young jumpers, said there have been youngsters who have seen the hill and are excited about trying it.
The new facility is a product of the ski club’s successful fund drive of two years ago that raised $1.2 million. The Mount Washington project was the club’s No. 1 priority with an eye on youth while upgrades at Silver Mine Hill are also on the agenda.
The erection of the steel girders at a cost of $300,000 completed a major part of the project, but Gundry said there is more work to do.
“Club volunteers need to put the deck on the beams, install the track and side rails while the plastic will be laid as soon as the snow is gone,” Gundry said. “My optimistic outlook is that there will be jumping by midsummer. But there is a lot of work to do.”
It has been Gundry and his crew of volunteers who have done a major share of the labor for the project that began in 2016. That has included concrete reconstruction and buildup plus grading of the landing hill to provide for the longer jumps. He singled out former U.S. ski teamers Dave Tomten and Pat Hamler for outstanding contributions in that area.
Placement of the light poles was done by the Chippewa Valley Technical College. All the plastic materials from Finland are on hand and ready to be applied.
All the work has been done under the leadership of Gundry, a civil/structural engineer who recently sold his company to CBS Squared of Chippewa Falls, a firm he is now employed by.
The new 55-meter will be the major jump at the Mount Washington Ski Complex, which has 7-, 15- and 30-meter jumps for the beginner’s and younger athletes. There is also a chalet at the bottom of the hill.
The site has an interesting history. It first held a tournament in 1892 and in 1909, it hosted a national championship meet that drew skiers and spectators from all over the nation.
After the slide burned down during a fire department exercise in the 1910s, it was rebuilt and, at times, had a large, wooden artificial tower.
On Feb. 28, 1937, it held what is recorded as the first night tournament in United States history with Olympic jumper Sverre Fredheim winning with jumps of 142 and 137 feet.
In search of a larger hill, the ski club moved to a new site at Hendrickson Hill in 1950 and the “Mountain” became the home base of the Flying Eagles junior club after its school yard scaffold at the 4th Ward grade school just below was dismantled.
The junior club has held tournaments for nearly 80 years and has been the spawning bed for numerous National champions and Olympic jumpers.
The new steel giant adds another chapter to an interesting history.