Empire Stadium Ski Jump: Vancouver's 165-foot high ski jumping attraction in 1958

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Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver

Many structures have graced the Pacific National Exhibition’s 114-year history, but one structure stands out among all of them: a 165-foot (50-metres) high ski jump attraction at Empire Stadium.

The temporary ski jump was built in 1958 as part of the fairground’s special events and attractions to celebrate the centennial anniversary of British Columbia’s incorporation into a British colony. At the time, ski jumping was a highly popular sport in British Columbia and such structures were also commonplace in the North Shore mountains including atop Grouse Mountain.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: Jewish Historical Society of B.C.

According to an archived 1958 article from the Vancouver Sun, a 25-man crew spent 13 days constructing the ski jump on the north end of Empire Stadium. It was billed as the fourth largest in the world and the largest in the country.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: blizzy63

The jump’s structure was built of 22.5 kms of tubular steel and had a landing area with a width of 12-metres (40 feet). A pair of machines were brought in to convert 300-pound blocks of ice into snow-like substance for the jump and landing pad. The ski jumpers would glide down, slide onto the field and into a pile of straw at the stadium’s south end.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

The ticketed attraction was carried out as an 3-day Centennial Invitational Tournament that brought in ski jumpers from around the world. However, it proved to be a financial disaster with only 24,928 paying customers.

Over 60,000 people “freeloaded from parked cars, camp chairs and apple boxes. Sloping streets above the [east side of the] stadium provided strategic locations for field glasses,” reported the Sun. 40,000 paying spectators were required for the event to break even on its $42,000 costs.

The take-offs and landings made by the athletes were not without incident either. On opening night, of the total 62 jumps made there were 24 spills including one of serious nature which resulted in lacerations to the face.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Out of all the events that Empire Stadium has held in its history, the ski jump attraction is arguably the most unique. The 32,729-seat stadium was built for the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games), became the home fields for the CFL BC Lions and NASL Whitecaps until the opening of BC Place Stadium in 1983, and were an extension of the event space of the PNE fairgrounds.

The stadium was demolished in 1993 due to structural deterioration from age and the reduced need for such a facility with the downtown stadium.

Empire Stadium Ski Jump Vancouver PNE Pacific National Exhibition
Image: City of Vancouver Archives

Featured Image: City of Vancouver Archives

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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