Former ski jumper urges city to keep Chester Bowl ski jumps; plans for removal move ahead
As a boy, Rocci Contardo of Duluth would spend all day soaring from the Chester Bowl ski jumps if he could. He’d take a break for dinner, he said, but would return to the jumps until nightfall forced him reluctantly home.
Contardo, now 91, urged the city of Duluth at a public meeting Thursday to halt plans to dismantle the jumps, which have rotted and rusted from neglect and misuse in recent years.
“I think it’s a shame,” Contardo said. “When you have a place like that, that kids can enjoy … and then take it away from them — what are (the kids) going to do?”
Pointing to a decline in ski jumping enthusiasm at Chester Bowl and the worsening condition of the jumps, the city announced plans last week to remove the jumps and construct a new downhill run.
Paula Reed, the city’s community relations officer, met with residents for nearly an hour Thursday, explaining the city’s reasoning and discussing plans to “memorialize” the jumps and the athletes who rode down them.
“I understand the passion that everybody feels,” Reed said. “We’re not leaving a hole. We’re putting something in that the kids can use and that will draw them out there.”
Reed said an engineering study conducted for the city in 2012 found that the jumps would require $1 million to be restored and more than $1 million to be made functional again.
That’s money the city doesn’t have, Reed said.
Affectionately known as Big Chester and Little Chester, the jumps were built in 1924 and 1969, respectively. They once produced Winter Olympians but haven’t hosted an official competition since 2005.
Contardo brought along a black and white framed photo of one of the jumps and a pile of old newspapers with stories detailing different events in the jumps’ history.
“A lot of us kids were born and raised on this Chester Park hill,” Contardo said. “What’s happening to this city?”
One of the reasons Reed said the city decided to remove the jumps is a drop in the number of people who use them.
“It’s a different time,” Reed said. She called the fact that the jumps are still standing a “liability.”
The city tried to reduce the number of people climbing the structures in 2011, removing the steps and judging stands of both jumps.
“It has not deterred them,” Reed said. “I don’t know what you’d have to put around them to keep people off.”
A push to dismantle the jumps in 2007 was defeated following objections from residents who wanted to see them saved, but plans to repair the jumps and restore their popularity never materialized.
Removing the jumps was a last resort, Reed said, but the city doesn’t have the resources to make them usable or even structurally sound, she said.
Plans to build a memorial for the jumps are in their early stages. Reed said the city has identified pieces of the jumps it plans to keep so that it can incorporate those pieces into whatever memorial is agreed upon.
Workers will begin disassembling the jumps as early as Aug. 18. The new downhill run is expected to be ready for this winter, Reed said.
“The city has tried to do what it can,” she said of the jumps. “But with the price tag, it’s not feasible.”