John Rudd turning a complete somersault on skis

As documented on this old postcard, Duluthian John Rudd is credited as having performed the first somersault on skies. It happened at Chester Bowl, then known as Chester Creek Hill.

Various accounts on the internet have the event occurring in 1905, 1906 and 1909 — and perhaps Rudd performed the stunt in all of those years — but an article in the April 1908 edition of the World To-day magazine pins the date of the photographed stunt as Feb. 13, 1908. In an article about the National Ski Tournament in Duluth, Sumner M. Matteson wrote:

There was another event which for bold, reckless daring distanced all others; a feat never before thought of in this or in any other country. John Rudd, a twenty-four-year-old native of Duluth, with some circus experience, was billed to make the slide, turn a forward somersault on a sixty-five foot jump and finish the ride in good form. The feat seemed incredible and there were those who attended the tournament as much to see this man killed as to see any other ski record broken. Clad in a knit cap, red sweater and full-length tights and using skies five foot four inches long, or two to three feet shorter than regulation, Rudd started down the chute from the middle landing. He assumed a crouching position from the first and made no effort at a high jump but seemed to roll from the chute as through a bowling alley. In the air his knees were held tight to his breast and both skies were side by side. With his turn nicely timed, the back of the skies touched the hillside first to signal “land in sight” and to help the man hold his feet when the skies measured their full length on the ground. He accomplished this feat not only once but four times during the tournament and seemed to enjoy his trick quite as much as the regulation riders did theirs, and on the whole I question if there is really any more danger here on a slide of known speed than in turning on a fast galloping horse, nor as much as in the modern high dive.

Matteson refers to Rudd as a “native of Duluth,” though other accounts refer to him as “Norwegian born.”

Left: A Front Somersault — John Rudd jumping sixty-five feet and landing on his feet to finish the ride: a feat never before attempted. Right: Flying Without a Machine — A member of the Aurora Ski Club at the Duluth Tournament who “flew” one hundred feet. Images and captions from The World Today magazine.

John Rudd after completing four successful somersaults on skis. Image via Milwaukee Public Museum.

This clip is from the New York Daily Tribune of Jan. 24, 1909, though it appears to have been shot at the 1908 tournament in Duluth.

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