Olympic ski jump in Red Wing takes off

July 27, 2017

RED WING — Before Labor Day, Bryan Sanders hopes to see signs of excavation work on Mount Frontenac. The former ski resort and current golf course will soon be home to a new ski jump facility.

“We’re still very confident we’ll be moving dirt by late August or early September,” said Sanders, a former Olympic ski jumper and executive director of the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum.

That’s great news to Patty Brown.

Brown, executive director of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce, sees the ski jump facility as a big boon to her town in terms of visitors and business growth. “I truly think that ski jump will be a game-changer for this entire area,” she said.

The $6 million to $7 million project will include a large ski jump hill — the facility will tower over Mount Frontenac and the surrounding area — suitable for world-class competition in the sport. Built on land owned by the Prairie Island Indian Community, the overall facility will come in two phases, Sanders said, with the jump coming first, followed by downhill tubing runs, zip lines, disc golf and a concert venue in phase two.

Eventually, Sanders said, the facility will draw upwards of 100,000 visitors to the area each year. Some of those will be members of the U.S. National Ski Jumping teams, the athletes who participate in world cup nordic events and the Winter Olympics.

Training site

And the hill will be used year-round. “That hill will be used more in the summer than the winter,” Sanders said. “We’ll probably see training from June to October.”

Sanders said as a training facility, the new ski jump is invaluable. While there is one other ski jump of similar size in the United States — the Olympic hill in Park City, Utah — this one is not located at 7,000 feet of altitude. “This helps for training for events that are closer to sea level,” he said, adding that competitors need to practice flying through the more dense air.

It won’t just be training athletes coming to Red Wing.

Sanders said with the advent of plastic mats that allow jumpers to use hills in the middle of summer, there are also competition events even when there is no snow. In fact, the facility should be done in time for Red Wing to host a summer Grand Prix Final in September 2018.

None of the World Cup level — the highest competitive level in ski jumping — competitions are currently held in the United States. The hope is this new venue will allow the U.S. to host those events in the future, said Jed Hinkley, sport development director for USA Nordic, the parent organization of the U.S. Nordic ski teams. “It’s a big deal nationally for us, for the sport in the U.S. and internationally,” he said, referring to the new facility. “A goal of ours is to have large-scale international competitions there.”

That, Sanders said, means fans of the sport — “It’s the national sport of Norway,” he said — will come to Red Wing and the surrounding area to watch events, stay in hotels and dine at local restaurants.

Hosting events in Red Wing would give the U.S. team “home-field advantage.” It would also help raise the profile of the sport in the region. “It’s good for exposure, good for recruiting and it’ll be good for youth development,” he said. And the facility’s proximity to ski jump clubs in the Twin Cities, Wisconsin and northern Illinois should help with recruiting and retaining athletes to the sport.

Private financing

Best of all, Sanders said, the project is being done without local tax money. Goodhue County has not chipped in for the project. And while Sanders has asked the state Legislature to consider contributing to the project, so far the facility has been privately funded through investment and donations.

“We did not receive bonding money in 2017,” Sanders said. “The Legislature has never been something we’ve put a guarantee on.”

Instead, the ski hall of fame in Red Wing, a nonprofit organization, has been soliciting donations and other contributions. “We raised $1.2 million in the quiet phase, and have another $1 million in pledges,” he said. “We have several options for financing beyond that.”

A three-year public campaign kicked off just a few months ago, he said. “Once we raise $3 million, that puts us in a safe place with the remainder of the financing.”

Brown said that once the second phase, which is geared more toward an outdoor attraction for people not necessarily willing to strap skis onto their feet, has been completed, the venue will become a major entertainment destination.

“We went out in May and staked out where the facility will be built,” she said. “The view from there is amazing.”