Visitors to Hampstead Heath in north London could have been forgiven for thinking they had somehow taken a wrong turn and ended up in Norway this afternoon. The unexpected sight of a nearly full-size ski jump, complete with real snow and skiers, on a sunny March day in southern England, was enough to make the most broad-minded of observers do a double-take.
The snow, and most of the skiers, were indeed from Norway, but the ski jump was the creation of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, alongside the Ski Club of Great Britain and the Oslo Ski Association.
The team of 25 Norwegian skiers brought the snow with them – 45 tons of it, packed in wooden boxes insulated by dry ice.The jump itself was supported by a tower of scaffolding 60ft (18.29m) high, giving skiers a 100ft (30.48m) run-up to the jumping point, 12ft (3.66m) above the ground.
We are very much hoping it will become one of the country’s major sporting features
– Event official
Modern ski jumps reach 200ft – 300ft (60m – 90m), but skiers on Hampstead Heath only had enough room to jump to about 90ft (27.43m).
The London ski jumping competition, as it is known, held a trial contest yesterday evening involving only the Norwegian skiers. The event the crowd was waiting for, however, was this afternoon’s contest between Oxford and Cambridge University. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the sunshine to watch the University Challenge Cup.
It was the first time ski jumping had been seen by most of the crowd. A broadcast commentary on the competition kept everyone informed of the quality of each jump. Spectators, however, seemed to be more interested in how deep each skier disappeared into the straw laid at the bottom of the run.
In the end, the Oxford team, captained by C. Huitfeldt, won the competition, while the London challenge cup – open to all competitors – was won by Arne Hoel of Oslo. An official said of the event, "This exhibition has been such an unqualified success that we are very much hoping it will become one of the country’s major sporting features."
The ski-jump competition was never held again, despite several attempts to revive it.
The ski-jump on Hampstead Heath was among the last major events to use real snow to re-create ski conditions.
The first artificial snow was made two years later, in 1952, at Grossinger’s resort in New York, USA.
Text from BBC’s OnThisDay