As the sun beats down on a glorious June morning I’ve chosen to write about something very unseasonal – skiing in Reddish! At first it seems an unlikely story. But looking at the incline of the slopes along the Tame valley you can see why two Norwegian students at Manchester University were inspired to stage one of Greater Manchester’s more unusual sporting events over two days in early March 1960.
1960 was World Refugee Year, and Lars Eie and Erik Hoff, members of the Manchester University Skiing Club, came up with a novel idea to raise money for the cause. With the help of the Students Union, they combined their desire to help refugees and their love of skiing by organising an international ski jumping competition.
The obstacles to their plans were considerable. Firstly they had to find a suitable site with large slopes – Reddish Vale was chosen because of the steep sides to the valley, on the Denton side of the river. They also needed to extend the height of the jump an extra 40 feet – this was done by constructing a scaffolding platform. In a nice touch, Stones the scaffolders proudly put an advertising hoarding at the top of the run. The final slope measured over 100 feet, allowing for a maximum jump of 130 feet.
Finally, the biggest problem – they needed to find the snow. It was very unlikely to be snowing in Reddish in March, so 10 tons were dug from Devil’s Elbow in the Scottish Cairngorms and immediately transported to Reddish in sealed lorries. The snow had been treated with ammonium chloride to stop it melting and extra artificial snow was brought from Chester. The Saturday was a very sunny day, and an army of volunteers spent two hours laboriously spreading the snow on the run. This provided a thin and rather narrow covering for the ski slope, enough for the competitors but not for the bottom of the jump, which had to be covered with cut grass for a soft landing! It looks like vegetation was also put at the side of the ramp in case the jumpers skied off target.
The event attracted huge crowds over the weekend of the 5th and 6th March. 15,000 people crowded into the Vale, each paying 2/6 to watch skiers from Norway and Britain compete on what was at the time the largest artificial ski slope built in Britain. In addition to the main competition the crowds were entertained with “acrobatics and fancy jumping”. What the “fancy jumping” involved isn’t clear, but the whole event must have been a completely new and exotic experience for the spectators, very few of whom had probably ever been skiing or even been abroad.
According to local news reports “none of the British skiers did outstandingly, but at least one of them earned commendations from the Norwegians when they learned how little practice they had had” – memories of Eddie the Eagle come to mind!The winner, in the second round, was the Norwegian Arve Johnsen, who “swept forward and into the air with arms spread like wings, and came down with perfect balance knee deep in the grass at the bottom. He had jumped 106 feet.
Overall the weekend of skiing was a great success. Despite the weather being sunny, and the fears of the people attending, the snow didn’t melt. Money was raised for World Refugee Year and the competition even made the national newspapers, with an article and photo in The Times. The event was never repeated, but the possibility of further skiing in Reddish Vale re-emerged in the 1990s, with plans for a snow dome being discussed. By then the area had become a very well used country park and there were widespread objections, so the plans were shelved.
The local press account from the time shows how doubters were challenged by the enthusiasm of the two students. “Not a few local cynics scoffed at first when the scaffolding was going up and the snow had not yet arrived. But by the time the jumpers began to take off, the two young Norwegian students had shown that bad weather – or rather the wrong sort of weather for a skier – need not stop anybody… This example would leave British Industrial cities with no excuse for much of their dullness.”