Copper Peak jumps to the future

Copper Peak, a ski flying hill that once attracted international athletes, has loomed over the western horizon of the Upper Peninsula for decades.

Ski jumping at the site ended years ago, and Copper Hill has remained open as a seasonal tourist destination outside Ironwood. Thrill-seeking visitors hop an elevator and climb a series of stairs to reach the top of the 26-story tower. The reward is panoramic views, stretching as far as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada on clear days.

These days, however, Copper Peak is on a new trajectory.

An ambitious project to transform Copper Peak and return the hill to the international ski jumping stage continues to gain momentum, with the state of Michigan last year awarding the project $20 million.

Support for the project – with an overall $24 million price tag – has come from near and far, from the local business and ski community in Ironwood to organizers and former ski jumpers of international ski organizations.

“It’s kind of a gateway to the big hills for athletes,” says Bob Jacquart, who has been pushing for the project for a decade and is chairman of the Copper Peak Ski Jumping Planning Committee. “I keep hearing how badly (athletes) want to come here. Copper Peak can help change this sport. The international attention is incredible ... We're very optimistic."

What’s happening: Plans to reopen a refurbished Copper Peak for international ski flying is nearing the finish line. To date, Copper Peak has received $20 million from the state of Michigan for structural renovations and other improvements. Last summer the Great Lakes Sports Commission provided nearly $150,000 for upgrades. International ski organizations have expressed support for the project as well.

The plan is to revamp Copper Peak as a year-round ski flying hill with an all-season surface. It will be the only one of its kind in the world.

What is ski flying:  Ski flying is similar to ski jumping but with athletes going longer distances, sliding down specially designed curved ramps. The ski jumping venue includes a jumping ramp, take-off table and a landing hill. Jumps are evaluated by distance traveled and style performed. In Olympic competition, the largest ski jumping hills are between 90 meters and 120 meters in length. The world’s largest ski jumping hills are 240 meters; at 180 meters, Copper Peak is the world’s sixth largest ski jump.

Why it’s important: Supporters and enthusiasts believe Copper Peak will help expand interest in the sport in the United States and also provide another venue for women to train. The FIS, ski world’s governing body, recently agreed to let women participate in the sport.

Additionally, a renovated Copper Peak will bring more tourists and sports enthusiasts to the region, helping create jobs and spur development. Upper Peninsula tourism officials estimate the impact at $50 million, with an expected resurgence in restaurant activity, hotels and housing.

Returning Copper Peak to the sport, supporters said, is important for several reasons. Popular in Scandinavia and Europe, ski jumping is looking to grow in terms of athletes and audiences. Because Copper Peak is smaller than other ski fly hills, it’s more conducive to introducing women and Nordic combined athletes to the sport. 

“I believe this is the biggest opportunity in our sport besides the Olympics,” said Clas Brede Brathen, a Norwegian ski jumper who is now sports director for ski jumping in Norway. “It will also mean American athletes have a huge opportunity to develop their talents. This will be the world’s biggest ski jumping training hill in the world and open all year.”

What's ahead: The board is in the process of raising $4 million to finance the project. The board and Copper Peak supporters are exploring various funding options, looking for large and small donors, large and small sponsors, and grants from public and private organizations. 

They're also trying to prepare the site for the first planned event in October 2024. The trajectory of ski jumpers has changed over the years, with skiers flying closer to the hill for safety reasons. That will mean changing the profile of the hill and reshaping the landing. New surfaces are needed for summer practicing as well. Atop the tower, the takeoff will be reangled and a building expanded and renovated to have room for 20 athletes and a bathroom.

Copper Peak is also looking for an events manager to help oversee construction and coordinate future events, including concerts, and other sports-related competitions, to increase revenue and attract more people. 

Copper Peak history: Built in the summer of 1969 for $1 million, Copper Peak hosted its first competition the following year. Ski jumping events were held through 1994 when the facility closed because of massive debt and other issues. 

Ski jumping has a long history in this region of the western Upper Peninsula. 
Local ski clubs had earlier created ski jump hills earlier in the century. The first organized ski jump occurred around 1905. The local club hosted a national tournament in 1913, held on a hill about a mile from downtown Ironwood. Ski jumping continued in the region despite some challenges, with a dream to build Copper Peak emerging after World War II.

What’s there now: The structure still stands and has been maintained and upgraded over the years, supported by revenue from tourism. A 15-member board runs operations. Copper Peak includes a ski lift that climbs 800 feet to the hill. The site also includes popular mountain bike trails.

Copper Peak is open to tourists from Memorial Day through the end of October. About 12,000 people visit each year.  

“Personally, I think we are going to have a real infusion of visitors attracted to Copper Peak all year long,” says Charles Supercynski, who led the nonprofit Copper Peak organization for years and a former ski jumper who was inducted into the Ski Jumping Hall of Fame in 2013. “I see a turnaround in interest in this area. We’re going to see new businesses and new opportunities.
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