History of Skiing in Lake Tahoe and the greater Sierra Nevada

Skiing’s start in the Sierras

How did Skiing start in the Sierra Nevada?

Native Americans? Pioneers? Farmers?

The answer is Miners. Miners started using skis (1) (then called snowshoes) as a method of transportation to get around during the harsh winters in which large amounts of snow would blanket the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The Sierra Nevada started to become more populated and settled in the 1800’s with the discovery of silver, gold and other precious metals. This discover lead to the construction of several mines throughout the region, which led to settlements often referred to as “mining towns” close to the mines. Often miners would come in seasonally from other areas in the West, often San Francisco or Sacramento. A select few of these miners stayed year round, enduring the harsh Sierra winters.

For those who stayed year round, the heavy maritime snow pack of the region proved to be an obstacle for transportation during winter months. In response to this, a select group of miners from Scandinavian or Norwegian descent started using long wooden planks (7-12 feet in length) (2) to float them above the snow. This was in relect to the practice of Nordic skiing in their home countries. The miners named these devices snowshoes, and alas the first practices of skiing in the Sierra Nevada began.

Mining towns during the winter were not exactly oasis’s full of recreation, and many residents took to this new practice of snowshoeing to pass the time. As with all of modern sport, this practice became more organized and miners began to race snowshoes.

An important mining town of interest is the town of La Porte. La Porte was a booming mining town once home to 10,000 residents (now home to 10). La Porte lies westward of the Sierra Nevada crest and about 50 miles North of Nevada City. There had been practices of unorganized ski races in La Porte as early as 1853 (1). On February 15th of 1867 the first organized ski race in America took place in La Porte. There was a pooled prize money of $600, astronomical for the time, and hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the race.

Image Courtesy of UNR Special Collections
  1. Allen, E. John B. From Skisport to Skiing: One Hundred Years of an American Sport, 1840-1940. Amherst: Univ Of Massachusetts Pr, 1996.
  2. DeQuille, Dan. “Snowshoe Thompson.” Nevada Historical Review 2, no. 2 (March 1974): 44–73
  3. *Comprehensive list of sources is located in search bar*

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