On a brisk afternoon in 1948, Darrell Holubetz began his slide down the ski jump off Stark Street. After speeding down the ramp, he launched into the air and struck a practiced pose to keep himself upright as he flew. After several exhilarating seconds in the air, he straightened out and stuck a landing for a 47 foot jump.
He was jumping in a junior ski jumping tournament held by the Atomic Ski Jumping Club, and it was maybe Darrell’s second or third time competing in a tournament (the previous month he had traveled down to Iola). 47 feet was a good jump from the 15 year old, but not quite good enough to win his group, although he did get to see his brother Karl win the Class A competition. But Darrell’s enthusiasm for ski jumping was not dulled by the loss, and he continued to jump in Wausau and other stops on the junior ski jumping circuit.
And he was not alone. Darrell and his ski jumping friends became charter members of the Wausau Junior Ski Jumping Club—sometimes known as “the Hill Busters”—and their interest in the sport was part of a renewed interest in ski jumping around Wausau that occurred in the late 1940s.
And that interest is something of a surprise in hindsight. Despite several years of popularity in the early 1930s, when ski jumping was the top winter sport to watch in Marathon County, it had largely been eclipsed by the rise of downhill skiing at the newly created slopes on Rib Mountain
And yet, the sport continued to attract the attention of new jumpers throughout the thirties and forties. Some of the ski jumps constructed at the sport’s initial period of popularity remained in use (like the Stark Street Jump used by the Atomic Ski Jumping Club), but they had become outdated and were not good enough to compete in the growing Midwest circuit.
And so in late 1948, the Wausau Ski Club announced plans to construct a new, modern ski jump in Brokaw; one that could compete with the hills at Iola, Beloit, Eau Claire, and Wisconsin Rapids. A scaffold structure was erected on Brokaw Hill, with 80 foot pools sunk into the ground and covered with slats to create the decline that would propel jumpers upwards of 60 miles an hour and into the air. Sports fans of the greater Wausau area once again were excited to see top level ski jumping in Marathon County.
In 1950, the first major adult competition on the jump was held by the Wausau Ski Club (a junior competition had been held a month earlier). It would attract competitors from across the Midwest and beyond, with the biggest star in attendance being the famed Swedish jumper, Evert Carlsson. Despite a crosswind and poor snow conditions, Carlsson pushed the hill record to 145 feet.
A writer for the Wausau Daily Herald reporting on the success of this first major tournament noted that “even in their wildest dreams the ski club members didn’t visualize anything like the turnout for Sunday’s meet at Brokaw.” He continued regarding the number of spectators that flocked to the meet:
At times cars were lined up nearly five miles back to Wausau, waiting to move into the village of Brokaw for any kind of parking space within walking distance of the ski jump. I know, because it took me exactly one hour to go from the turnoff on highway W to the parking area at the foot of the scaffold. I could have walked faster.
An estimated 6,000, plus an additional 2,000 turned away because there simply was no place left in Brokaw to park a car, should prove that Wausau likes its ski jumping.
(The Wausau Ski Club quickly announced plans to expand the parking lot for future events at the end of that first event.)
Darrell Holubetz was one of the many locals who closely watched the state of ski jumping in Wausau. In 2014 he donated a scrapbook that he carefully put together while a teenager. On black construction paper pages, he glued, taped, and stapled all sorts of ski jumping-related items; from biographical pieces on a renowned family of jumpers from Portland, to newspaper clippings about local meets, score cards & programs with penciled scores written in, and jumping-related cartoons from the newspaper.
As a middle schooler, Darrell took advantage of the Wausau Ski Club’s program to provide ski lessons to area kids, which led to competitions in downhill and cross country events. But by 1948, his interest had progressed to ski jumping.
He probably learned to jump at the beginners’ slide built in Parcherville, before graduating to larger jumps and eventually traveling south to Iola or Wisconsin Rapids to take part in junior ski competitions in 1948 and 1949. He and his friends founded the Wausau Junior Ski Jumping Club, and held some of the first tournaments at the new Brokaw slide after it was built at the end of 1949.
This second golden age of ski jumping in Marathon County that came from the construction of the Brokaw jump was dependent on Darrell and his fellow “Hill Busters.” The junior program made sure there were future jumpers to continue the sport, just as downhill skiing was thriving on Rib Mountain at the same time. And the nature of ski jumping meant that someone had to periodically haul fresh snow up the 75 foot scaffolding to repack the chute to give needed traction for jumpers, and the older veterans relied on the youthful energy of the teenaged members to do this.
Darrell’s scrapbook does not continue beyond 1951, which is the year he graduated high school and was drafted for the Korean War. But the jumpers at Brokaw Hill continued to hold competitions throughout the 1950s, attracting star ski jumpers and thousands of spectators.
On March 16, 1951, the Valley Winter Sports Club was founded to further help stimulate ski jumping in the area. They purchased the “large senior scaffolding” in Brokaw and the beginner slide in Parcherville from the Wausau Ski Club, and they built an intermediate slide in Wausau at Hammond Park. Throughout the 1950s they continued to put on well attended competitions as well as provide the opportunity for new jumpers to learn the sport.
But eventually, the interest in ski jumping again faded in the area. The top-notch downhill skiing on Rib Mountain combined with the lack of the ever larger, modern ski jumps that were necessary to continue to attract international attention, meant continuing interest in ski jumping waned.
The Brokaw jump remained standing until November 12, 1966, when—after several years of neglect—the Wausau Paper mill cut the cables supporting the scaffolding and a windstorm brought it the ground.