The Father of Local Skiing: Anton Martinson and the Ski Jumping Craze

Anton Martinson built a jump – and a ski culture – in the 1930s

I was slowly paging my way through a thick album of old photos, part of a box of pictures that my friend Michelle Rasmusson had leant to me. The pictures belonged to the Trudy Erickson family she had married into, and the local history nerd in me was infatuated. 

In these pages were photos of seminal events like the dedication of the Door County Historical Museum, action photos of very early Sister Bay baseball games in fields without fence, and the early days of Maxwelton Braes Resort

But one photo stopped me cold. A man flying through the air on a pair of skis, his landing strip lined with spectators leaning in for a better look, the slide far in the background. At first glance I assumed this was a photo from the old ski jump in Peninsula State Park, but in this scrapbook it was labeled “Ellison Bay Ski Jump.”

What? Is this real? And if it is, where was this? 

And so the hunt began. Last year we published the photo in the Peninsula Pulse and asked readers to let us know if they had any more information about this jump. It wasn’t long before I got a call from someone I probably should have known well enough to ask, Bill Bertschinger, whose family owned the Alpine Resort for a century. 

“So you wanna know about that ski jump I hear?” he said in his typical get-right-to-the-point fashion as soon as he picked up the phone when I returned his call. “Well I don’t know all the details, but when I was about 16 (circa 1944), Paul LeMere, Donny Geiseman, and I went up there. Somebody said there was a ski jump. We didn’t have jumping equipment, we had cross-country skis and we were coming down with leather straps on our feet, but we were young and didn’t know any better.”

They were all Egg Harbor boys, but the chance to launch yourself off the jump was well worth the drive all the way to Ellison Bay. The slide, as they called it in newspaper reports of the day, was located east of the highway on the big hill entering Ellison Bay from the south.

“I was getting about 45 feet, but the other guys were doing a bit better,” he recalled. 

Bertschinger didn’t know who built the slide. Nor did a couple of other folks I talked to, but then Pete LeMere (Paul’s brother) gave me a ring and told me about a man named Anton Martinson. 

“I would presume that he had something to do with it, if he didn’t outright build it,” LeMere said. “He was a mentor to a lot of the young guys and skiers.”

He remembered a time his big brother jumped and crashed hard, cursing up a storm as he gathered himself. Watching the scene, Martinson was impressed. 

“Boy, that was a lot of cursing – he might just be a skier,” Martinson said. 

The mentor was a Norwegian, born May 25, 1885, who came to the United States in 1910. He settled in Sister Bay, and sent for his wife and children a year later. His obituary described him as a carpenter and mason, but reports of the comings and goings of the day suggest a man of many endeavors. 

April 13, 1916, Door County Advocate

Anton Martinson left Monday for Milwaukee, where he expects to get a job to work at something, or, if the proper chance is found he might go sailing.

Another note mentions a venture north to work as a logger for the winter, only to be followed by another post months stating that he returned home early, the work not materializing. 

Anton Martinson. Photo courtesy of the Allen Erickson family collection.

Martinson would eventually make his mark here by spreading a love of skiing and winter sports cultivated in his Scandinavian homeland. In the early 1930s he did indeed build that Ellison Bay ski jump tower, the first to be built in Door County. In 1935 newspaper archives began printing reports of efforts to create a Door County Winter Sports Club to stage skiing, skating, and hockey events, with open invites to athletes near and far, including teams from each local community, helmed by a who’s who of local leading men.

Captains: Anton Martinson, Ellison Bay; William Berns, Sister Bay; Nels Jepsen, Ephraim; Ray Slaby, Fish Creek; Herman Bernschein, Egg Harbor; Leon Collins, Baileys Harbor; Arnold Logerquist, Jacksonport; Gerhart Miller, Sturgeon Bay.

A.E. Doolittle, superintendent of Peninsula State Park, pledged to fix up the slide in the park and create a skating rink at Nicolet Bay. Hjalmar Holand and Leland Thorp were involved, as was John Bertschinger as president of the organization. 

The competitions of this new Winter Carnival and Winter Wonderland pageant were front-page, top-of-the-fold stories from 1935 through the 1940s. Every community was involved, and the ski jumping competitions drew crowds estimated at 2,500 to the park. 

But Martinson led the way on the slopes. He was the official starter at nearly every skiing competition. He made many of the skis used, and pairs of his skis were offered up as prizes by sponsors or given as gifts to youngsters. As the years passed, articles referred to him as either the “Father of Skiing” or the “Granddaddy of Skiing” in Door County. 

“To him belongs the honor of bringing organized skiing to Door County,” wrote Clarence Brodd in a remembrance upon Martinson’s death on March 21, 1956. 

In March of 1959, the first Anton Martinson Memorial Ski Jump competition was held at the Lone Pine Hill, south of Fish Creek, which he had worked long and hard to acquire for the Winter Sports Club. But the competitions didn’t last long beyond his death. The last mention of the memorial jump was in 1962, when Lone Pine Hill had become Nor Ski Ridge, and notes on the Winter Sports Club tailed off as well. By 1972, the only mention was in regards to snowmobiling. 

The ski jumps are long gone, as are the slopes, but under the clouds of the Great Depression and World War II, a few folks still remember how Anton Martinson brought some new excitement to the peninsula’s winters. 

A skier flies off the Ellison Bay ski jump, which was built by Anton Martinson in the 1930s and was the first ski jump in Door County. Photo courtesy of the Allen Erickson family collection.

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