Longboards to Olympics
A century of Tahoe Winter Sports

Mark McLaughlin

The winter greeting in the Alps is ‘Ski-heil.’…health and happiness…Come to the Sierra Nevada, where the air is grips and the sun is bright, where the only depressions are those that one takes with a flourish and whoop! Strap on your skis and shout with us, Ski-heil!” Dr. Joel Hildebrand, 1935 Siera Club Bulletin

With that quote Mark McLaughlin takes to into Sierra ski and snow sport history.

This interesting book covers the history of Sierra snow sports from the first longboarders in an obscure part of California in the 1850’s, to modern  popular snow sports.

The book is full of pictures, old newspaper clippings and quotes, stories, and asides which make it very readable.

Traveling through history in the book we learn all kind of interesting facts.  The first U.S. downhill skiers skied longboards nine feet long and four and half inches wide.  They went up to one hundred miles an hour and could not turn.  They used only a single pole they sort of sat on to use a brake. 

Snowshoe Thompson carried mail across the Sierra on 25 lb. skies he made himself with 60-100 lb. packs of mail.  He carried the first samples of ore from the Comstock Lode in Virginia City and he could cross the Sierra in two or three days.

You learn about “perhapsing” on a toboggan in Truckee.  Perhaps you will survive and perhaps you won’t.  You learn about the “most thrilling ride on the Pacific Coast” at the Truckee Winter Carnival.  Maybe the first mechanical lift in the west was in Truckee in 1911. The book covers Truckee winter movie making, 1932 July skiing at Sugar Bowl, how Boreal came to be, Hannes Schroll (Sugar Bowl founder), Berkeley and Treasure Island ski jumping in the 1930’s, and more.

The books starts with the unorganized and mostly individual skiing in the 1850’s north of Truckee and then moves through the incremental growth of winter sports today’s organized skiing.  On the way you read about the Truckee Ski Carnivals held to attract the general population, the coming of ski clubs, lodges and organized ski areas.

The 1930’s was the “breakout decade” for winter sports.  It had been individual up until then but with the 1930’s there was a confluence of factors that made winter sports attractive and popular.  Organized ski instruction began, entrepreneurs opened up small ski areas, ski lifts of different kinds were installed, lodges were built, the highway was kept open in winter, equipment improved, and there were unique personalities who built an industry.  Those personalities did all kinds of things to popularize winter sports from the simple forming clubs and building lodges and ski areas, to the Auburn Ski Club’s holding of ski jumping demonstrations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For those of us on Donner Summit, that section of the book is particularly interesting.  McLaughlin covers the coming of Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Boreal, Hutchinson Lodge, the Sierra Club and Clair Tappaan; as well as the personalities such as Hannes Schroll who founded Sugar Bowl; Johnny Elllis who had a couple of rope tows on the Summit and Dennis Jones who started Soda Springs ski area, then called Beacon Hill.

The journey from individual skiers in the 19th century comes to an end with the founding of Squaw Valley, the ultimate in organized ski activities, and the 1960 Olympics with an exciting summary of the U.S. hockey team’s gold medal.

Mark McLaughlin is a local award winning author with numerous books and hundreds of articles about Tahoe area history and weather under his belt.  You can find out more about him at his website, “where Tahoe history comes alive” where you can also purchase his books.