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Tahoe Nugget #41:

Sierra Longboarding

With the ESPN Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, ending today and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, just around the corner, winter sports are definitely in the media spotlight. The Sierra enjoys a long skiing heritage. In fact, the first ski club in the United States, the Alturas Snowshoe Club, was organized near La Porte in the mountains of northern California in 1867.

California skiing actually got its start during the winter of 1853, not as a sport per se, but as a form of transportation over deep snow. Scandinavians 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 with one long pole. After an avalanche in '53 took the life of a miner struggling along without skis, acceptance of sliding over snow on barrel staves grew quickly in the mountains.

The Alturas Snowshoe (Ski) Club was organized for the physical and mental well-being of the miners and that's when ski racing got its start. The boards were long, heavy, and with no side cut to aid in turning. It was all about speed. The beauty of early California ski racing was that women (and children) were included in the competitions. In the mid-19th century, a time when women couldn't vote and were generally disenfranchised socially and economically, women were encouraged to grab their longboards and hit the hill.

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 sit on a wooden pole and use it as a rudder and brake. That's why I always say that the early choirs of northern California were all sopranos!

The current men's speed skiing record is 154 mph, set by Austrian Harry Egger in 1999 in the French Alps.

Photo #2: The longboards in this photo were crafted by Tahoe local Craig Beck (center-rear) based on 19th century specifications. Among his many accomplishments, Beck produced the movie "Daydreams" in 1975, the first film of extreme skiing.

Nugget #41A Woman skier 650

Nugget #41 B Beck's longboards ID 650

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