Gelande jumping began in Alta, Utah in 1963 with such famous skiers as Stein Erickson, Pepi Steigler and Junior Bonous competing. The new sport grew slowly until a competition in Vail in the early 1970’s. The prize for the winner at Vail was a new Porsche automobile. That was the shot heard ’round the West and it jolted young skiers into action. The winner of the Porsche was Crested Butte alpine skier Mark Jones who had been on the Western State ski team. Tremendous interest now came in Gelande jumping. Coming off of natural hills in the Rockies with alpine boots and on alpine skis and using ski poles Crested Butte skiers became the best in the West. From 1972-78, the heyday of Gelande jumping, great competitions were held in Alta, Durango, Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, and Jackson Hole with thousands of dollars in prize money. Coming off mountain side at 60 miles an hour the Gelande jumper had to get into a tuck position and hold it until landing.
At Crested Butte, competitions were held on a jump near today’s Three Seasons condominium, off of the Houston run and the Horseshoe jump at the ski area. Jumper Ron Bear explained why the Crested Butte Gelande jumpers were the best: “We have tremendous skiers here and great cooperation from the ski area. We have also been doing it longer, practicing together, and we’re a little nuts – we know no fear.”
One of the best Gelande jumpers was Paul Hitchcock, a local Gunnison boy working at the Klinherhaus ski shop in Crested Butte. Hitchcock started jumping off of the jump near Tower 7 of the gondola, graduated to the rock jump near Paradise lift and then to bigger jumps. When he heard a Porsche was the prize at Vail, Hitchcock was all in as a Gelande jumper. In 1973, Hitchcock jumped 229 feet at the Purgatory ski area, setting the world record. Three years later, he won the overall Grand Prix Championship. Hitchcock recalled that, “I loved jumping and after one jump, could not wait to get to the top and go again.”
Gelande jumping began to fade by 1978. Pro skiing had started, ski areas worried about liability, the winter of 1976-77 was the winter of no snow and freestyle skiing became the rage. An era had ended, but in the mists of time, we can still see them roaring down a mountain side at 60 miles an hour and lifting off into Colorado’s clear blue sky and flying effortlessly like a bird before landing far below. They were pioneers all – the young men of Crested Butte – the best in the world.
-by Duane Vandenbusche