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Local view: Chester Bowl ski jumps: If jumps have to go, can we save the danger?

Excavator operator Eric Peterson gathers timbers and wood removed from the judges’ box and other structures around one of the ski jumps at Chester Bowl into a pile for hauling away . The small buildings and access to the jumps were removed because of vandalism and to prevent people from climbing them. (2011 file / News Tribune)

I’ve never climbed the old ski jumps that tower above Chester Bowl in the hillside, but I’ve always liked that I could. Not legally, of course, but there’s been little to stop anyone from ascending the 88 meters to the top. I’m told the unending vista of Lake Superior makes up for the structure’s disconcerting sway in the wind.

When I moved here in 2008, that Big and Little Chester existed at all simply delighted me. Given our greater litigious culture, those ski jumps soaring above the hillside were a definite signal: I wasn’t in my safe, first-ring Minneapolis suburb anymore.

And back in 2009 when Chester’s training jumps where still around, I signed up my little kids for a free clinic. I watched through splayed fingers as they shot out of the 10-meter jump named Bunny Ears. I don’t remember them being particularly gifted at the sport, but I do recall their wild smiles. Like they couldn’t quite believe they were allowed to do this. Honestly, I couldn’t, either.

Duluth, it seemed, was dangerous. And because of that, full of possibility.

I saw this philosophy again after the flood of 2012. My favorite run in upper Chester had opened up under the fierce waters and suddenly sported a two-foot crevasse. Given that part of the trail was on a steep drop-off, one had to jump over the gap to continue. But the trail was never closed. There was no yellow caution tape or orange cones. It seemed to say, “We trust you to make this decision. If you can make it, great; if not, you know the way back.”

I would leap my ungainly self over the gash as the “Indiana Jones” theme song rang in my head. For a moment there, I

wasn’t an office-working pixel jockey; I was simply alive — and allowed to manage my own risk, thank you.

And even as I acknowledge that rare joy in today’s society, don’t mistake this as a plea to retain my beloved ski jumps, our Eiffel Towers of the Northland. Truly, it’s not. I understand to keep the structures sound would require a financial investment. And despite my sorrow at seeing them go, I understand the children of Duluth would benefit more from our putting our money into other sports programs.

But I hope we find ways to keep our independent Northland ethos alive, one full of risk and prospect and dreams — and maybe just a little bit of danger.

Lucie B. Amundsen is the “marketing chick” for the Locally Laid Egg Company of Wrenshall.