Hot Sulphur Springs shorted at Denver history exhibit

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It may seem as though an exhibit in the new History Colorado museum shuns Hot Sulphur Springs as the birthplace of ski jumping, but the museum’s director of exhibits said that’s really not the case, nor is it the museum’s intention.

A widely publicized museum opening in Colorado may have misled some into thinking Steamboat Springs was the birthplace of ski jumping — right on the heels of Hot Sulphur Springs’ 100-year anniversary of its Winter Carnival, celebrating it as the place of the sport’s first official ski-jumping exhibition in the U.S. on Dec. 30, 1911.

Contrary to this historic fact, museum statements marketing the opening of the new $110.8 million, 200,000 square-foot History Colorado Center boasted an exhibit conveying the “virtual soar off the world’s first ski jump in Steamboat Springs.”

State Historian and Director of Exhibits at History Colorado, William Convery, recognizes this was an unfortunate marketing mistake.

“We noticed that error,” Convery said, “and that is certainly not the case. It was an error repeated again and again. But we don’t want to make any claim for Steamboat Springs.”

Ski jumping first developed in Norway, and not until Norwegians Carl Howelsen and Angell Schmidt visited Hot Sulphur Springs was the sport introduced to the American West. The first ski jump was built in Hot Sulphur Springs. Before then, skiing had simply been a mode of transportation.

During his trip to the opening of the Colorado History Center on April 28, Director of Museums Tim Nicklas, of the Grand County Historical Association, filled out a comment card, he said, pointing out to museum officials there needed to be mention of Hot Sulphur Springs in the museum’s ski-jumping exhibit.

The center’s exhibit “Jumping for Joy” tells the story of Howelsen visiting Steamboat Springs in 1913, two years after his exhibition jumping in Hot Sulphur Springs. Howelsen proceeded to establish Steamboat’s tradition — one that still endures today — of producing Olympic ski-jumping athletes. The Howelsen Hill ski jump is presently the only one in Colorado and one of the few in the U.S.

But Hot Sulphur, where it all started, is being neglected, Nicklas said.

“We can’t tell an encyclopedic story of Colorado,” Convery said. “But we can tell stories with strong connections that are meaningful to today. The fact that Steamboat has an Olympic tradition is how we were trying to do that.”

“This exhibit is neither a look at the overall history of skiing in Colorado nor does it serve to highlight the ‘firsts’ in Colorado’s ski history,” said History Colorado Public Relations Director Rebecca Laurie. “‘Jumping for Joy’ is a look at a single community that is featured as part of eight other communities in an overall exhibit called Colorado Stories.”

But Nicklas takes exception to the museum’s use of at least one photograph of Howelsen. Although Hot Sulphur Springs is not mentioned, one photograph, cropped, shows Howelsen jumping in the first Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival in 1911. In the original photograph, the base of Mount Bross is in the background.

According to Nicklas, the display implies “the photos were of him at Steamboat Springs,” he said. “It makes no mention of him being at Hot Sulphur Springs. Steamboat didn’t even have a jump at that time.”

“The exhibit does not claim that Steamboat Winter Carnival was the ‘first’ such celebration, or that skiing or ski jumping originated in Steamboat,” Laurie said. “The goals of the exhibit are to highlight the contribution of a single community to Colorado’s ski culture, as well as show how Steamboat Springs is representative of the type of contribution that the many ski communities in Colorado have made.”

Asked if the museum would be willing to mention Hot Sulphur Springs in its exhibit, Convery said: “We’d consider it.”

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