Eighty years ago, Highland Park, also known as “Pill Hill,” was known as “The Dumps.” Two tiers of overburden, stacked one atop the other, formed this geological phenomenon. It gave birth to the “Little Speedway,” “Big Speedway” and the “Scaffle.”
The “Speedways” used the sides of “The Dumps” for takeoffs and landings.
The “Scaffle” was built by the skiers. It consisted of material pilfered from local construction sites. Unknown to him, Mel Stavn was the major benefactor from his site of the erection of the Blessed Sacrament Church. I think we forgot to thank him.
A partial list of these intrepid daredevils included “Butters” and “Moose” Kalibabky, Eddie Strick, Red Gilbert, Jim Motherway, Elewen Hansen, Dick Oyist, Geno Nicolelli and yours truly.
The landings and run outs for these ski jumps today would run you into Sullivan Candy Co., Noramco Engineering and Total Tool Supply.
Our first skis were made of pine. A slot in the middle contained a leather strap, which you looped over the toe of your boot; a 1-inch wide rubber strap cut from an inner tube and placed on your ankle, then hiked over the leather strap and over the toe of your boot. Viola! Boot now in, firmly attached to your skis.
Our first descents were down the lower tier. No jumping, no turning. Gravity pulled you down at Mach 1 until you either fell or stopped.
This contraption did not allow you to jump. You needed either maple or hickory skis with “clamps.” These were made of leather, which curled around your heel. With the toe of one boot firmly snuggled to the metal toe piece, you closed a metal clasp at the heel. Now you were ready to jump.
One could jump 50 to 60 feet on Little Speedway, 60 to 80 feet on Big Speedway and 90 to 150 feet on the Scaffle. I conjured up enough courage to take on Little and Big Speedway, but chickened out at the Scaffle when I saw Elewen Hansen lose a ski midair just over the knoll and tumble all the way down to the flat.
We had several days of labor prior, hauling snow to the landing, then packing it by side stepping on our skis down and up the landing. Elewen was subsequently pummeled by his compatriots for such a heinous performance.
Now, where did all this early training lead to?
I have skied on over 50 different ski venues throughout the United States, Canada and two in Europe at the ski resort in Italy called Cervinia, which lies on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. That massif rises 19,642 feet above the valley floor.
On this given day, six guys and five dolls rode the tram up to a ridge which girdles the Matterhorn at about 10,000 feet. We skied around this massif, and from this ridge, we dumped off and took a heart-thumping descent on a hair-raising black diamond run down into Zermatt, Switzerland.
We whooshed into Zermatt directly to Bier Stube. More than a couple steins later, we grabbed the tram back up into Italy, and sashayed down into Cervinia on a beautiful, benign, blue run.
What can I say of that experience … I say dazzling, daring and a day on this mountain that I could only dream of back on ”The Dumps.”