With our first measurable snowfall of the season this past weekend, all eyes naturally turn upward toward the majestic silhouette of
Aside from its natural beauty, Eureka Peak is something of an emblem for Graeagle as it can be said that in our earliest recollections, this is where it all started.
In 1851 a rich vein of gold was discovered on Eureka Peak overlooking our still to be imagined town. Less than 20-years later the town of Johnsville was established near the mining encampments to house the ever burgeoning influx of miners and their families who escaped the fate of the Donner Party by traveling the newly forged Beckwourth Trail, thanks to James Beckwourth. Mr. Beckwourth guided wagon trains along the trail from Nevada, after finding a much safer, lower elevation pass through the treacherous snowbound mountains. The trail followed roughly what is now known as California Highway 70, through the Sierra Valley and terminating in the town of Marysville.
All work and no play…
Even gold miners need a day off. It didn’t take a huge amount of imagination to come up with a winter sport that would, less than 100 years later, be the focus of a new kind of gold, right here in the Sierra, at Squaw Valley. Olympic gold that is, the event: Downhill Skiing.
Enter one of the most colorful figures in our local history, Snowshoe Thompson.
And man oh man, was that guy in shape. The striking Norwegian born, Mr. Thompson, was employed to carry mail across the mountains from his home in Placerville, CA, three times a month to what is now known as Genoa, NV, He shunned the Native American winter equipment, snowshoes, in favor of his old country longboard skis which enabled him to make the trip, in the depths of winter, in a mind boggling 3-days! So why didn’t they call him Ski Thompson? It’s one of those historical omissions that give rise to artistic license in blog writing, but I’ll save that for another time.
On his days off, Mr. Thomson was known to take a lightweight jaunt up to our mountain where he schooled our bored out of their minds gold miners in downhill skiing (and probably relieved them of a few nuggets in the process). He taught them everything they needed to know about the sport except…the snowplow.
Wearing the original longboard skis, which measured 10-feet in length and weighed approximately 25-pounds, one could only hope for the best when it came to putting on the brakes. Only a sturdy wooden pole, jammed between the legs, provided hopefully sufficient drag to slow and stop forward momentum. Well waxed (doped) longboards (now 14-feet in length) typically reach speeds of 80-miles per hour.
Having mastered the technique, our intrepid miners, put their available resources to good use by piling into the semi-automated ore buckets which ran up and down the mountain inventing the first ever ski lift! According to the Plumas Ski Club:
“By 1863, Gold Mountain, now known as Eureka Peak, above the then thriving mining town of Johnsville had a down-the-hill ski run of 2600 feet. An early day “longboard” ski racer was reported to have reached a speed of 90 mph. According to oral history, the mining ore buckets going up Gold Mountain were used by skiers as possibly the first ski-lift in the world.”