Remember When? Hitting the slopes in Gladstone

Editor’s Note: Information about skiing in Gladstone was provided by “Gladstone Centennial History – 1887-1987.”

The Gladstone Ski Club had its beginnings in 1937 when Hilding Granberg, Helmer Skoquist and Art Skoglund skied to the Wickman farm and returned on a beautiful winter evening. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to do it every Thursday night for the rest of the winter.

They were joined by others, many others. Lunches were provided at Lamberg’s cabin and enthusiasm grew.

The Wickman farm property was purchased by the City Club the following year with the intent that it should be developed into a Winter Sports Park. The land totaled 78 acres consisting of steep hills and valleys dissected by the Days River.

When the treks were started again in 1938, they were under the auspices of the organization sponsored by the City Club. More than 100 charter members were signed up. The first officers were: Hilding Granberg, president; William Johnson, vice president; Germaine Minne, secretary-treasurer; and Eusebia Louis, James Cannon, Viola Foster and Erick Lindahl, trustees.

An early trek to the airport was described as follows:

“We started out about seven o’clock. There were many who had never been on skis before and had primitive equipment. Women even came in high-heeled shoes and had narrow cross straps on their skis. We had much difficulty. One woman fell from her skis and one ski went clean down the bluff. It was retrieved but caused us to get a late start.

“We wound up at Cole’s Tavern (later the Log Cabin), going down the side of the bluff. We had lunch there and then started home across the bay. We arrived home about 2:30 in the morning. We thought that would discourage a lot of people, but the next week the crowd was bigger than ever.”

The Ski Club lost no time in getting things going at the Winter Sports Park. The first rope ski tow was installed on the front hill and was dedicated early in January. A second one in the “bowl” was ready by the end of the month.

Joe Maurin, a ski instructor from Iron Mountain, was engaged to give instruction to local skiers from Jan. 4 to Jan. 9, and Walter VanDeWeghe was named Winter Carnival chairman.

In March, the club members made the first of several “snow train” trips over lumbering railroads to lumber camps where they skied cross-country. They also partook of good old lumber-camp food in the camp dining rooms.

When the Wickman farm was purchased, development of the area was begun with the help of the U.S. Forest Service and WPA workers. Seven slides were constructed with many undeveloped runways approaching and zigzagging about the course. Twelve more slides were being developed along with four new cross-country runs. As many as 267 skiers were reported on the trails at one time.

Arnold Froberg was a timekeeper clerk for the WPA on the work at the Winter Sports Park in 1938-39. In 1970, he recalled that the engineer on the project was John McCarthy. Alfred Raddant was city manager and Joseph Hillewaert was the foreman.

“Roads were built, including several bridges, fairways were cleared and rough grading was done. The main body of the clubhouse was constructed,” Froberg said. “The huge fireplace was sponsored by Norman Knutsen, who contributed funds for the labor of a stonemason. The mason imbibed quite regularly and into each bottle he emptied, he placed pertinent typed information, wax-sealed the top and placed it in the mortar and stone.”

Froberg also noted that the first ski tows used old salvaged parts from the Buckeye saw mill.

In January 1939, it was estimated that 400 skiers enjoyed the park on weekends. The winter carnival that year was reported to have drawn 2,500 people to the Sports Park.

In the mid-1950s, The Delta Reporter Newspaper sponsored a ski school and Jerry Meach of Traverse City, a student at Michigan Technological University was the school’s first instructor. He had informed the skiers that they would have more fun and less injuries with proper instruction and equipment. The first year’s enrollment of 110 was so large that Jerry enlisted the help of another MTU student, John Blaser.

Meach graduated from college the next spring but Blaser returned and was assisted by a local man, Jerry Harris. Adverse weather conditions (lack of snow) reduced the participation that year to 90. Harris and Walter Palmquist took over in 1960-61 with 145 students and, in 1961-62, rang the bell with 220. That same year, award arm patches were awarded to 200 members who had completed lessons that year.

The instructors taught not only skiing, but proper conduct on the hills. They organized a ski patrol, which was instructed in first aid and how to bring injured persons off the hills by Dr. George Maniaci at first, and later by other medical personnel. Dr. James Dehlin, a skier himself, said of the school, “It is a wonderful thing. A few years ago, a person practically took his life into his hands when he tried to ski on these hills, even if he was an expert. The kids were darting here and there in a helter-skelter fashion and no one could predict where they were going next. Now it is a pleasure to ski at the park and there are a lot less injuries.”