Lake Telemark: Cradle of Skiing in NJ

“Don’t make this about me.” Roy Selland must have repeated that three times during our first conversation for this story. He’s been skiing for over 50 years, making the grinding trips north before I even knew what cross country skiing was.

He shared Lake Denmark Road with the Flatland Posse, and it’s now our favorite roller ski spot. While I originally intended to relay some of his war stories, he emphasized that around Lake Telemark, in Rockaway, NJ, there was a whole community of people into skiing and ski jumping back in the day.

Lake Telemark. Stockholm. Oslo Hill. Swede Mine Road. Years before the current trend of giving every new subdivision a cute moniker like “Fawn Glen,” a name conveyed information about the place it was attached to. Lake Telemark, situated in northern Morris County, was founded in 1929 by 2 Norwegian emigres who were reminded of home by the small lakes and tall fir trees.

In the beginning, it was a resort community for the Scandinavians living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Little by little, people turned their summer cottages into year-round houses. Local newspaper articles referred to the area as “Little Norway.”

A newspaper article dated Feb 10, 1947, documents the first annual Winter Carnival sponsored by the Sons of Norway chapter in Telemark. Ice skaters and “ski enthusiasts came from around north Jersey, New York and Brooklyn, and 1000 spectators watched “national speed and figure skaters and thronged nearby ski slopes to watch jumping and cross country runs.”

Arvid Hagen of New York broke his arm after a “35-foot leap” off the 10 foot jump. (Might the journalist have confused feet with meters?) Erling Sveningsen of Staten Island, a “former Eastern States cross country ski champion,” won the jumping event. He then went on to win a 6-mile cross country race with a
“field of 14 leading Norwegian experts.” Svengingsen’s son Rolf placed second.

A second article by the same writer, John W. Rae, dated Dec 14, 1947, detailed plans for the second Winter Carnival: “National ski and skating champions are scheduled to participate in next year’s event February 1 when a new 1000 foot ski slope and jump will be dedicated.”

Roy was a quarter mile runner in high school in Lake Telemark in 1948 when the “snoballen,” a group of Norwegian “Olympic caliber ski jumpers,” came to the U.S. They put on an exhibition at Lake Telemark’s Winter Carnival before setting out to compete at tournaments all around the northeast.

It’s unclear on what happened first: the formation of the Odin Ski Club or the construction of the 25-meter ski jump on the hill overlooking Green Pond Road. One Erling Flogland found the site for the 25-meter jump on top of Hibernia Mountain. Sverre Justnes bought the land and recruited friends to clean up the brush. With a bulldozer, they did the heavy clearing.

“Basically, there was nothing but a chute,” Roy said. They built a frame with 2x6s and fashioned an outrun; then they jumped.

While the winter of 1948 had plenty of snow, the succeeding typical Jersey winters didn’t stop the Odin Ski Club. If nature didn’t co-operate, diehard club members would harvest snow around Rockaway Township, hauling it to the ski jump in pickup trucks and spreading it.  Then they’d get rolling.

A program for the Odin Ski Club’s “Spring Ski Jumping Festival” (June 1! 8 P.M.! Under floodlights! Sunday June 2 starting at 2 P.M.! No year specified, but I would guess 1958 or 1959)

It may not have been the biggest jumping hill, but the Odin Ski Club had a good program. Throughout the 1950’s the ski jumps were open from Christmas until March. Several good ski jumpers came out of Lake Telemark. Roy named a few names for me:

  • Arthur Tokle, who competed at the 1952 and 1960 Winter Olympics.
  • Andy Crawl, who competed on the U. of Denver ski jumping squad.
  • Johnny Holt, who was a regular on the eastern ski jump circuit.
  • Jackie Hosick, a fine Class A/B jumper. (In those days, “Class A” denoted an elite skier; “B” was just below, followed by “C.”)
  • Oddvar Ask, an excellent jumper who qualified for the 1960 Olympic team but didn’t get his U.S. citizenship in time to compete.
  • Birger Visgnes, who came to Lake Telemark from Norway in 1948. He skied cross country and jumped as a student at St. Lawrence, and continues to ski today.
  • Roy went to the U. of Maine and skied from 1952-1955, competing in jumping, cross country and the occasional alpine event.

In addition, many other local people jumped, among them Norman Jacobsen, Kjell Skavnes, and Walter Swanson.

While most of the stories in the sports section of the now defunct Dover Advance covered the local high school teams or bowling, there are some ski-related articles spanning the winter of 1960. The February 1, 1960 issue of the Dover Advance named 37-year-old Art Tokle January “Sports Star of the Month” after he made the Olympic team.

At Christmas, many of the Lake Telemark jumpers would travel to Lake Placid, NY, where a 40-meter hill reposed on the site of the modern jumps built for the 1980 Winter Olympics. In lean years,
they shoveled snow for 2 days and jumped for 4 days before returning home.

“You could go every weekend” to a different jumping meet, Roy told me. “Jumping was the thing. It wasn’t cross country.” They competed at Bear Mountain, NY; Salisbury, CT; Lake Placid, and Brattleboro, VT.

inrun of defunct ski jump at Bear Mountain NY

Lake Telemark’s ski jump is gone, but the inrun of the old Bear Mt NY jump remains.

It’s hard to conceive now, but 40+ years ago, ski jumping drew big crowds. On January 16, 1960, over 10,000 spectators turned out to watch the competition for the Doerr Memorial Cup at Bear Mountain, NY. Lee Todd, then a USSA nordic competition director, recalled watching Art Tokle jump in front of a similar crowd at a Brattleboro Outing Club (now known as Harris Hill) event in VT.

Despite 62-degree temperatures, a jumping contest occurred in New York City’s Central Park, in November 1960. Taking place on crushed ice, the event drew 20,000.

Without fresh blood to follow the founders, the Odin Ski Club folded in the mid 1960s. But it left a rich tradition of skiing in north NJ.

20 thoughts on “Lake Telemark: Cradle of Skiing in NJ

  1. Wonderful story of the early days in Lake Telemark. I lived next door to Art Tokle for about 18-19 years. Art was a great mentor and role model for me. He trained me early in life to ski fast on X-country skies. He gave me guidance and an unusally about of confidence on skies at an early age. I loved cutting trails with him, big figure 8 loops in the woods in back of our house was the norm. He shared science and physics with me at an early age. My grandfather Sven, lived on the other side of our house up the hill were my father promised us a rope tow some day. Nice rolling hills, foot hill and mt. lakes in these parts. I was a spoiled kid with great mentors. Big dreams I still have. Carl Nostrand, Homer, Alaska.

  2. I jumped with the boys in the mide 1950 as the only girl….lots of great memories.Ellen (Skavnes) Tonnesen..also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show…my Dad helped with getting snow on the hill when Mother nature could not. (Ivar Skavnes)

  3. I remember meeting Art Tokle and Roy Selland when I was pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Rockaway, NJ (Lake Telemark)

  4. Craigmeur competed with Uncle Henry’s ski hill in Green Pond for many years until Henry finally gave up. Being directly across the road from each other gave skiers two local hills to visit for many years.
    Growing up in the area and teaching at Craigmeur many years later, I do not recall a ski jump at either place. Lake Telemark captured the jumpers with its modest hill and wildly enthusiastic ski fans.
    A great place at a great time.
    Robert T

  5. Thanks for posting this. Sure does bring back memories for me. I may have to go find my old ski jumping and speed skating trophies. People I know now can’t imagine growing up in a community in New Jersey that gave us access to speed skating, hockey, cross country and ski jumping. I grew up in Lake Telemark and skied with Art Tokle and his son who was my age. A special place.

  6. I was eight years In the winter of 1957-58 when a schoolmate of mine showed me a neat trick while we played in the snow. He built a ski jump. That little guy was Arthur Tokle Jr.. His father of course was the world famous ski jumper Art Tokle. Little Art was my first coach, then his dad took over. Within a week I was a on pair of hand me down Northland slalom skiis jumping in an event at Bear Mountain as a member of the Odin Ski Club. I came in 2nd. I still have that trophy. That year Big Art was the coach of the U.S. team in the world championship meet, I believe was Helsinki. But before going, the entire team jumped off of a small jump on the Ed Sullivan Show’s stage. The Norwegians were insanely active in Nordic sports. They even put on a summer ski jump meet up at the hill (six minutes from my house by foot) I have photos of the jumpers making ice with an ice grinder attached to a jeep. I was at those summer meets and all of the winter meets. Lake Telemark was the site for the U.S.winter Olympic speed skating time trials . I recall playing hockey and stopping to watch in awe. God bless the Tokle’s and God bless Lake Telemark. It was a beautiful little community to have grown up in. You mentioned Vigsnes. Whoa! He was my hockey coach. What a conditioning freak. We would see him in the middle of the summer running around the B.U.L. field in the high weeds…, with his skiis on. I last saw Art Tokle and Art Jr. in 1998. Art Senior took us for a walk through the woods along the path that he would run through on his skiis year round. He still had his ski work shop in his basement and still would not give me the recipe to the “Torger Special” ski treatment that we all used on our skiis. He named it after his brother who was a ski patrolman. The area was alive with winter sports. My mother worked at Craigmeur’s. Many times I had to run the hill at Craigmeur Ski Hill for old man Bill Doig the owner. I was twelve to fourteen years old. Doig later bult a ski jump on the premises. Art Tokle was young at heart till the end of his stay here with us. I have a photo of the two Tokle’s at my kitchen window with skiis on telling me to get dressed…, it was time to go jumping!!!! Thanks Art..,and Odfrid his wife, and of course Art Jr.. My name then was James J. Sterns, shortened from Sternaimolo. An Italian catholic kid in a Norwegian enclave. What a blast!!!

  7. I use to jump the telemark when a kid. I remember someone (not sure who) drove a volkswagon off it and ruind the ramp and that was the end of it

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