Born 1913, Died 1920s
Denver, Colorado N 39° 47.232 W 105° 03.646
Inspiration point. Located on the edge of Denver, at an elevation of 5,380 feet above sea level. Could it really be the birthplace of the Colorado ski industry? Certainly, a more modest setting is hard to imagine.
Inspiration point was never a commercial ski area, but it played a crucial role in the early development of skiing in Colorado. It all started when George Cramner first witnessed ski pioneer Carl Howelson schussing down Capitol Hill after a blizzard in December of 1913. Cramner, who was visionary Denver Mayor Robert Speer’s Director of Parks, was intrigued by the exotic sport. Suddenly, the blizzard seemed less an inconvenience and more the key to unlocking the potential of Mayor Speer’s pet project – the unprecedented Denver Mountain Park system.
Few had automobiles in the first two decades of the 20th century and the streetcar lines barely extended beyond Denver’s borders. Cranmer and Howelson had to devise a way to expose the citizens of Denver to the new sport, in their backyard. The answer was to organize a ski jumping exhibition on the highest point in Denver – Inspiration Point.
Inspiration Point is a ridge located at Sheridan and 44th in northwest Denver. It was a popular place to take your sweetie and gaze out on the majestic skyline of the Rockies, in warmer months. Inspiration Point was an easy walk from the streetcar line that traversed the route of today’s I-270 highway spur through northwest Denver and Arvada. When word got out there would be an exhibition of daredevils flying through the air on long boards of Norwegian design known as “skees,” crowds flocked to the events. Newspaper estimates at the time placed the crowds at upwards of 15,000, particularly exhibitions that coincided with the Stock Show.
One look at the rickety takeoff and landing ramps shows how daring the early ski pioneers were. Equipment consisted of long (taller than a man’s height) wooden skis, ordinary boots and leather strap bindings. Yet these early exhibitions were successful in creating an awareness of the sport. It was only natural that this activity would move up into the foothills on the wheels of the automobile.
Within a couple years, winter sports festivals featuring ski jumping had sprung up in mountain towns such as Hot Sulphur Springs and Steamboat Springs (where Howelson built the ski area and Olympic training center that still bears his name). Closer to Denver, local ski jumping enthusiasts built a more permanent structure on Genesee Mountain, 10 miles to the west.
As a ski venue, Inspiration Point’s time was short-lived. Although civic boosters boasted of the pleasant winter weather that blessed these events, snow cover was hit-or-miss at the site, even with the cooler January temperatures of 100 years ago.
The carnival atmosphere is long gone. The suburban tract homes that wrap around the hill themselves seem dated. But when you stand at the cache location and look up the slope, you are standing where the people of Colorado first glimpsed the future of recreation and sport in their state.
Sources: Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Department