Okay, I was going to wait but I’m excited! I just learned yesterday my first effort at not only writing a contemporary Western but also an inspirational one will be published! (details will follow.) I’m kind of on Cloud Nine so to celebrate, I’ll draw a name from today’s commenters for a copy of my current release, Marrying Minda.
Well, that said, after watching the Olympics, I’ve kind of got skiing on the brain, especially since our three-year-old grandson saw the mogul run and said, I want to do that. I know I can manage a bunny hill after all these years…I know how to get off a ski lift without crashing and down a slope without major havoc upon my person or anybody else’s, but what else do I really know about skiing?
I found out some stuff.
Skiing developed in Scandinavian countries centuries ago for transportation, not for fun or sport. Emigrants from Norway and Sweden brought skis with them to America, and in 1841, skis were used for the first time in the United States in Beloit, Wisconsin. During the California Gold Rush of 1849, Norwegian pioneers took skis, and snowshoes, to the West. Although no documentation exists, it is believed that the first ski races in America were held by California miners as early as 1860.
The first skier recorded in America history is the legendary “Snowshow” John A. Thompson, who was the first mailman of the West. Born Jon Torsteinson-Rue in Telemarken, Norway, he came to Illinois in 1837 with his family at the age of ten. Although the family eventually moved to Iowa via Missouri, Jon was living with a brother in Wisconsin when Gold Fever struck. In 1851 when Thompson was 24, he drove a herd of dairy cows to California and settled in Placerville, California, down the mountain from Lake Tahoe. He mined for a little while in Kelsey Diggins and Coon Hollow, saved some money and bought a small ranch at Putah Creek.
At this time, despite snowshoes woven by Native Americans, all attempts by mail deliverers to cross the Sierra had failed. Johnson himself personally suffered by the lack of reliable mail—the letter explaining the flu epidemic that had claimed his mother’s life had been long delayed. When he saw an ad in late 1855 in the Sacramento Union titled “People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier,” he quickly applied for the job.
For 20 consecutive winters, he used skis to bring mail to and from the Placerville area to Genoa, Nevada, and later to Virginia City. Although his nickname was “Snowshoe,” he used ten-foot skis and a single pole held by both hands at once. Never lost even in blizzards, he never carried a gun or took a blanket. And he was never paid!
His trips east took three days uphill, two days to get home. He followed what is today’s U.S. Highway 50 from Placerville to South Lake Tahoe. The 90-mile distances also included snowdrifts up to 50 feet high and blizzards with 80 miles per winds. For the long winter months, he was the sole link between California and states to the east.
Off duty, he taught settlers how to make skis. Married with one son, Snowshoe died on May 15, 1876, from complications to appendicitis and pneumonia. He is buried in the Carson Valley and honored there in bronze.
Within ten years of his death, ski contests were held among the Norwegian and Swedish settlers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. On Feb. 21, 1904, at Ishpeming, Michigan., a small group of skiers organized the National Ski Association.
(This photo courtesy of www.VintageWinter.com)
America’s first ski lift, a simple rope tow, was constructed in 1913 in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe. In the 1920’s, similar rope tows appeared throughout the West, and resort skiing began to be a popular recreation about 1930. Sun Valley, Idaho built the first world’s first overhead chairlift in 1936, followed by Loveland, Colorado and Berthoud Pass, Colorado in 1937. Ski resorts followed at Alta, Utah in 1937; Mammoth Mountain, California in 1938; Monarch, Colorado and Sugar Bowl, California 1939; Winter Park, Colorado in 1940. Understandably, ski resort development slowed during World War II.
Of course, Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe was the site of the Winter Olympic Games in 1960 and still proudly wears the Olympic Rings. In 1961, the National Ski Association was renamed the United States Ski Association. Known today as the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, it now includes freestyle and disabled skiing.
It’s been a while since I hit the slopes, but I learned quickly at Loveland during my student-teaching months in Denver, Colorado, and the last time I performed on a family trip, I was still hanging in. How about ya’ll? Who of you skis? What winter sports blow your hair back? What’s your favorite winter Olympic competition?
(to order a copy, click on cover.)