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Longboard skiing has a long history in the Sierra

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Longboard skiing has a long history in the Sierra

Postby ERIC » Mon Apr 03, 2006 9:17 am

Longboard skiing has a long history in the Sierra

Sierra Sun
March 31, 2006


On Sunday, March 19, the Plumas Ski Club hosted the 14th annual National Longboard Ski Championships near Johnsville, Calif. The ski events and award ceremonies were held on the slopes of the Eureka Ski Bowl in Plumas Eureka State Park.

March 19 was a perfect day for racing with fresh snow and crisp temperatures. This year, an upstart ski club from Truckee and Lake Tahoe joined in the fray to challenge the local skiers from Plumas County who have dominated the sport since the revival series began in 1992.

The Tahoe N Truckee Ski Club represented their community with a small contingent of racers, both men and women. Racers from the “TNT” Ski Club shocked the Plumas Ski Club members when Kina Nemeth from Truckee took first place in the women’s races, and Gavin Ball, also of Truckee, placed third in the men’s division. It was a great start to a new rivalry.

It wasn’t long before various snowbound communities throughout the “Lost Sierra” north of Truckee had skiers competing against each other. Local mining towns with colorful names like Poker Flat, Whiskey Diggings and La Porte all sponsored longboard ski teams that would compete with each other for cash prizes that could reach $1,000. The sport became organized when Creed Raymond founded the Alturas Snowshoe Club at La Porte in 1867. (In the lexicon of early Sierra mining camps, “snow-shoes” meant “skis,” whereas the term “snowshoes” without a hyphen signified “webs” or “trampers.”

A close associate of Creed Raymond was Charley Hendel, a graduate of Zchoko Institute of Technology in Dresden, Germany, who arrived in Plumas County in 1853. Hendel, known as “Quicksilver” by the other racers, was a master at waxing his skis, or doping as it was then called. The “dope” consisted of ingredients like whale sperm, pine pitch, oils from trees like cedar, hemlock and sugar pine, as well as rosin and balsam.

The mixture would be cooked and then allowed to cool before being hand-rubbed into the base of the skis. The various ingredients and cooking times for the dope recipes were considered trade secrets by each racer.

The Alturas Snowshoe Club was founded for the physical and mental well being of the miners during the winter months. Elected ski club officers codified the rules for how the longboard races would be run. The nation’s first downhill ski racecourse of record was laid out at Johnsville. Early courses were 100 feet wide, up to 1,800 feet long, and ran straight down the mountain.

The start and finish lines were marked with American flags. Racers ran in heats of two to four skiers at a time with the winners advancing to the next round in a single elimination format. With no chairlifts or rope tows available, winners of each race had to hike back up the mountain in order to run the next heat. The boards were long, heavy, and with no side cut to aid in turning. It was all about speed.

A great tribute to early California ski racing was that women (and sometimes children) were included in the competitions. In the mid-19th century — during the Victorian Era when women couldn’t vote and were generally disenfranchised socially, politically and economically — women in the primitive Sierra mining camps were encouraged to grab their longboards and hit the hill.

On Feb. 7, 1861, the Sacramento Daily Union reported: “Great big men, extremely small children, and delicate looking females ascend La Porte’s Sugar Loaf Mountain, and how they come down! Everyone who has the time to go out in the evening for an hour or two, and every person who can buy or borrow a pair of skis, is out on the mountain, and they appear to enjoy the sport.”

During racing season, women in full-length skirts could be seen flying down the snow-covered mountainsides with reckless abandon. In 1867, one journalist reported, “The ladies’ racing was the most exciting of the week. All over the mountain could be seen women practicing.”

The women’s races often drew the largest crowds and loudest cheers. The lonely miners were always on the lookout for “a woman on the marry” and were usually on their best behavior when the fairer sex were present. Miners defended the honor of local women with an intensity borne of the fact that in the 1860 census, only 312 females were counted in the mining camps, compared to 1,773 men.

Fastest in their time
Ski racing in the Sierra enjoys a long and colorful history dating back to the 1850s, when wild miners would sometimes ride rusty ore buckets up the mountain and then ski down as best they could on short, barrel staves mounted with leather bindings. The evolution of the long-board ski and the skill of waxing them for different snow conditions changed all that.

Plumas County skiers on longboards flew down the mountain at speeds approaching 90 mph in the 1870s. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that these pioneer men (and women) were the fastest humans on the planet at that time.

California skiing got its start during the early 1850s, not as a sport per se, but as a form of transportation over deep snow. Scandinavians, especially Norwegians, who arrived during the Gold Rush introduced the concept of skiing and soon miners were traveling over Sierra snow on simple wooden planks, pushing themselves along with one long pole.

After an avalanche in ‘53 took the life of a miner struggling along without skis, the popularity of sliding over snow on carved barrel staves grew quickly in the mountains. Doctors were soon skiing miles to treat injuries or deliver babies. Residents in snow country skied to work, hauled supplies on skis, even funerals were held with mourners and pallbearers gliding smoothly along on skis.

Snow-shoes, webs and trampers
It wasn’t long before various snowbound communities throughout the “Lost Sierra” north of Truckee had skiers competing against each other. Local mining towns with colorful names like Poker Flat, Whiskey Diggings and La Porte all sponsored longboard ski teams that would compete with each other for cash prizes that could reach $1,000. The sport became organized when Creed Raymond founded the Alturas Snowshoe Club at La Porte in 1867. (In the lexicon of early Sierra mining camps, “snow-shoes” meant “skis,” whereas the term “snowshoes” without a hyphen signified “webs” or “trampers.”

A close associate of Creed Raymond was Charley Hendel, a graduate of Zchoko Institute of Technology in Dresden, Germany, who arrived in Plumas County in 1853. Hendel, known as “Quicksilver” by the other racers, was a master at waxing his skis, or doping as it was then called. The “dope” consisted of ingredients like whale sperm, pine pitch, oils from trees like cedar, hemlock and sugar pine, as well as rosin and balsam.

The mixture would be cooked and then allowed to cool before being hand-rubbed into the base of the skis. The various ingredients and cooking times for the dope recipes were considered trade secrets by each racer.

The Alturas Snowshoe Club was founded for the physical and mental well being of the miners during the winter months. Elected ski club officers codified the rules for how the longboard races would be run. The nation’s first downhill ski racecourse of record was laid out at Johnsville. Early courses were 100 feet wide, up to 1,800 feet long, and ran straight down the mountain.

The start and finish lines were marked with American flags. Racers ran in heats of two to four skiers at a time with the winners advancing to the next round in a single elimination format. With no chairlifts or rope tows available, winners of each race had to hike back up the mountain in order to run the next heat. The boards were long, heavy, and with no side cut to aid in turning. It was all about speed.

A great tribute to early California ski racing was that women (and sometimes children) were included in the competitions. In the mid-19th century — during the Victorian Era when women couldn’t vote and were generally disenfranchised socially, politically and economically — women in the primitive Sierra mining camps were encouraged to grab their longboards and hit the hill.

On Feb. 7, 1861, the Sacramento Daily Union reported: “Great big men, extremely small children, and delicate looking females ascend La Porte’s Sugar Loaf Mountain, and how they come down! Everyone who has the time to go out in the evening for an hour or two, and every person who can buy or borrow a pair of skis, is out on the mountain, and they appear to enjoy the sport.”

During racing season, women in full-length skirts could be seen flying down the snow-covered mountainsides with reckless abandon. In 1867, one journalist reported, “The ladies’ racing was the most exciting of the week. All over the mountain could be seen women practicing.”

The women’s races often drew the largest crowds and loudest cheers. The lonely miners were always on the lookout for “a woman on the marry” and were usually on their best behavior when the fairer sex were present. Miners defended the honor of local women with an intensity borne of the fact that in the 1860 census, only 312 females were counted in the mining camps, compared to 1,773 men.

Lotti Joy
In 1867, Lotti Joy shot down La Porte’s 1,230-foot-long race slope at 49 miles per hour to set the earliest women’s speed record. Soon the longboards reached nearly 20 feet in length and by 1874, Tommy Todd schussed to a record 88 mph. Not bad for a guy on skis that didn’t turn and the only way to stop was to straddle the wooden pole and try to use it as a rudder and brake. (The current men’s speed skiing record is 154 mph, set by Austrian Harry Egger in 1999 in the French Alps.)

Today, after a century-long hiatus, longboarding is popular again at the Eureka Peak Ski Bowl. An annual event since 1992, the National Longbaord Championships were well-attended this year, with lots of families there to watch the races and enjoy sledding, live music and barbecue.

The old rope tows haven’t operated for years, so both skiers and sledders must climb for their runs, just like in the old days.

Although alcohol may not be sold in Plumas Eureka State Park, many silver flasks were being passed around among the racers, and plenty of beer found its way to the picnic tables. The local ranger was tolerant of all the festivities, keeping in mind the motto of the Plumas Ski Club, “Skiing and Whiskeying in the Sierra Nevada since 1874.”

Mark McLaughlin’s column, “Weather Window,” appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. His award-winning books, “Western Train Adventures: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” and “Sierra Stories: Trues Tales of Tahoe, Vol. 1 & 2,” are available at local bookstores. Mark, a Carnelian Bay resident, can be reached at mark@thestormking.com.
Last edited by ERIC on Mon Apr 03, 2006 7:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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ERIC
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Postby hikerduane » Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:20 pm

Thanks for dredging this up Eric. The atmosphere at the races is similar to a normal day at "Johnsville" when the lifts are running.
Piece of cake.
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