Citizens keep Chester Bowl going strong in Duluth

The view from the top of the Chester Bowl ski hill on Jan. 17. The park is located in the center of Duluth.  Dan Olson/MPR News

Editor’s Note: Chester Bowl park is closed today because of the weather.

You likely have your own memory of a ski hill from your youth. I’ll tell you mine in a moment. For thousands of Duluth area kids, the memory is and will be Chester Bowl. I’ll take you there today in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices on All Things Considered.

Can’t remember when I’ve had more fun with “work.” The most fun was the round-trip chair lift ride with Chester Bowl Improvement Club executive director Thom Storm.  Big blue sky above with crunchy pure white snow below. Then, at the top of the Chester Bowl hill comes a view that money can’t buy of the city, the Duluth-Superior harbor, Park Point  (the continent’s longest freshwater sand bar) and, across the lake, Green Bay Packer land also known as Wisconsin.

Six years ago Duluth elected officials solved part of a city budget crunch by laying off park and library employees. The Chester Bowl partisans rallied and created a 501(c)(3) that funnels donations to pay salaries of as many as 20 part-time and full-time workers including Thom Storm.

A 1926 photo of ski jumping at Chester Bowl. Photo courtesy of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club

Chester Bowl is 116 acres of city-owned land and is still a park which Duluth helps maintain with grass mowing, snow grooming and some maintenance. It’s one of the city’s first four parks created in 1888. Then, with creation of the Duluth Ski Club in 1905, the Chester Bowl became a center for big time ski jumps and toboggan runs.

Wes Neuscel, 93, helped raise money for the Chester Bowl chairlift. Dan Olson/MPRNews

There are a few factors helping Chester Bowl hold things together. Its location in the middle of the city helps a lot. It’s also a great little ski hill for beginners with a long tradition and a batch of ardent supporters. Years ago when Chester Bowl had a chance to buy a used chairlift, the one still in use, retired businessman Wes Neuscel put up a tidy sum and raised a bunch more by calling friends. Friends like that portend a bright future for Chester Bowl.

So, as I mentioned at the top of this post — my childhood ski memory? Ski Devil! A very tiny hill in Fertile, Minn., with a vertical drop of probably 10 feet (more like Ski Kitten). But for kids growing up in the flat land of the Red River Valley, it seemed like 100 feet at the time.

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