Energetic, 84-year-old Joseph Nowak of Cloquet is living proof that age doesn’t hold us back. A Duluth native, Nowak is still skiing the hills and cross country trails of the Northland. The former middle school science teacher holds a lengthy list of accomplishments from his skiing career across the world.
Nowak, born July 16, 1929, began skiing around the age of five.
“Our house was surrounded by hills…We would just go out, do our own skiing,” Nowak said. “We skied the upper hills of Duluth in Chester Park.”
At the time, skiing was a relatively inexpensive sport.
“The equipment was cheap,” Nowak said. “You could get skis for less than $20, boots for $8, bindings for $6, and pants for $10.”
Nowak began competing in ski jumping in 1945, at the age of 16. He joined the Duluth Ski Club at Chester Bowl after being encouraged by friends that he’d met while hunting and fishing.
Nowak set several records for the Duluth Ski Team, including taking second place in total points at a competition at Chester Park.
In 1946, at the age of 17, Nowak placed second in a national ski meet in Colorado in the “C class,” and in 1947, he won the “B class” city title in Duluth.
While attending college, Nowak was drafted in the Korean War. He was stationed in Germany and was asked to compete on the U.S. Ski Team. He went to the regional competition in Garmisch, Germany, where he won the regional meet in 1953.
Nowak was a decorated skier throughout his career. He won five consecutive jump meets from 1953 to 1955, and held a top ten rating from 1951 to 1959.
“I attended the Olympic trials in years 1951, 1955, and 1960 and the World Team trials in 1954, 1958, and 1960,” Nowak said.
In 1958, Nowak became the president of the Duluth Ski Club.
After his skiing career came to an end, Nowak went on to coach and teach. He taught science at Cloquet Middle School while coaching the Cloquet High School ski team in all three disciplines, which include downhill, cross country and ski jumping. He taught for 25 years and coached for 26.
“I was so happy after the first [meet]. We knew how to do it,” Nowak said about coaching the high school ski team. “We put all the points together, and all of a sudden you’re a state champion.”
During his time coaching, Nowak realized the skiers needed a good hill that was nearby. He came across a piece of land that was owned by a paper company and totaled about 40 acres.
“The paper company couldn’t plant on the hill because it was too steep,” Nowak said.
Nowak personally designed the hill, jump and cross-country trails. The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway in Proctor donated leftover materials to build the ski jump. Today, Pine Valley Park is one of the few remaining ski jumps in northern Minnesota.
“It took about three months to get it all put together, and we’re still using it today,” he said.
Nowak is now retired from teaching and coaching.
“I quit jumping in 1970. I skied all over the world, and I had enough” Nowak said.
Even though Nowak doesn’t coach them anymore, he still works with the Cloquet High School ski team in his spare time.
“I don’t take full charge, but if I see a need for a change, I’ll say something,” Nowak said.
Nowak may be 84 years old, but he proudly says, “I still downhill and cross-country ski to this day.”