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Conquering Copper Peak


I made my first visit to the Upper Peninsula's Copper Peak ski jump earlier this month. Well worth a stop if you're heading in that direction. Here's a travelogue.

In the middle of nowhere (nowhere = 10 miles north of Bessemer, Mich.), a tower rises from the forests of the Upper Peninsula.

A dusty field in front of a massive hill, topped by a massive ski jump.

A kind-of-rundown chalet at the bottom - ticket sales inside, along with photos and mementos of major world ski jumping competitions from years past. Mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s. Not much since.

$12 a ticket gets you on the chair lift to the top of the 350-foot hill. "Oh, can you bring this backpack up to the guy working at the top? He forgot it down here."

Uneventful chair-lift ride, sharing the double-chair with the backpack. Cargo successfully delivered, next stop is the base of the ski jump.

A salty older woman is running the elevator. Did she just say it was closed yesterday for repairs? And the sign says maximum load four adult passengers... but there are five people inside.

No matter. An uneventful ride eighteen stories up to the observation deck. The woman talks of efforts to refurbish the massive, weather-beaten structure.

Beautiful views for many, many miles in all directions. But we're not at the top. That's another 80 feet up, climbing the stairs and catwalks clinging to the edge of the structure.

Our guide can go no further - bum ankle. So we're on our own. Start by climbing the little wooden staircase alongside the jump - imagine what goes through the minds of ski-jumpers as they make this same climb.


Now onto the metal catwalks - you know you shouldn't look down, but you can't help it. All that stands between you and the trees 200 feet below is a metal grate. You didn't think you had a fear of heights, but now you wonder.

Continuing up. Finally, the top - about 280 feet above the hill, which stands 350 feet above the surrounding area. Take the final catwalk out to the edge to look down the ski jump. Notice that the plywood walls on either side have big holes. Feel the whole structure sway in the wind.

A few minutes, a few photos, and then back down. It's harder going back down, seeing all those steps in front of you and trying to not think about falling forward. Gingerly, take one step at a time.

Finally back to the observation deck. Take the elevator back down. Take the chair lift back down. Take photos showing where you just were. A sense of accomplishment.

It looks like rain - they might have to close for the rest of the day, they say, because they take no chances with lightning. You think of that safety philosophy, and then think of the holes in the plywood walls at the top. Oh, well. You survived the experience, and so have thousands of other people. It was $12 well spent.

Back in the car, back on the road for another U.P. adventure.



Wicked cool--that's been on my to-do list for years, but I'm skittish with tall heights so I keep putting it off. Great pictures!

Must say that this is one of the best posts I have read here in a really loooooong time.

Thank you for that read!!!!!


Just out of curiosity, does anyone know of a ski jump within a 400 mile radius that would allow some idiot to sign a waiver and go off their ski jump legally without the hassle of all that training and actually being a member of a ski club?

Great story that brings back a lot of memories when I used to photograph ski jumping at Copper Peak in the '70s. A photog friend of mine once took a massive tumble down the hill. Thanks for the travelogue.

I remember the first ski flying at Copper Peak in 1970. I was on the A.D. Johnston H.S alpine ski team, and we trained at nearby Powderhorn.

We and the ski school boot packed and later packed with our skis the underhill the day before the meet. The prize was getting to schuss down the underhill after we were finished.

Never did go off the jump and never will.

Well worth the chairlift, elevator and climb up.

Another great view is the top of nearby Mt. Zion, which you can drive up.

A bit before Duluth's leaves change, plan on seeing the colors up on Copper Peak in the fall. You can stop in town and have a pasty or catch a show at the Ironwood Theatre.

Organizers are hoping to have another meet up there; trouble is there are only about 100 ski flyers qualified to make the plunge.

Right now, it's used as a snowmobile hill climb each year, below the jump that is.

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