In the birthplace of alpine ski racing gold rush, longboarders are back | sports

JOHNSVILLE — Quick, as befits a question about alpine ski racing: where did it start?

If Scandinavia comes to mind, consider this: Years before there were organized races in Europe, miners raced through the mountains in a part of California known as the Lost Sierra, a mother lode of forests, lakes and small, remote towns in Sierra and Plumas Counties approximately one hour north of Truckee.

This heritage is celebrated and recreated each year at the Johnsville Ski Bowl in Plumas-Eureka State Park. But COVID-19 put the festivities on hold for two years, and during that time, the Dixie Fire devastated surrounding areas.

So this year’s Longboard Revival Races, which wrap up this weekend, celebrate not only the resilience of early Californians, but also the modern strength of hard-hit mountain communities.

“As you can see, we needed a vacation,” said Pete Bartels, waving to a jostling, dancing, screaming and beer-drinking crowd at 10 a.m. during the February event.

The story goes like this: The gold rush attracted fortune seekers from around the world, and miners trapped by snow 30 feet deep learned to ski longboard from a pioneer born in Norway, where skiing originated in longboard. Driven by boredom, they began racing, regularly reaching speeds in excess of 85 mph on skis up to 16 feet long, which weren’t designed to turn or stop.

In the 1990s, a group of men now calling themselves the “Grey Beards” brought back longboard racing that began around 1850 and died out in the 1950s. An early poster for the relaunched event stated that the races would start at noon with the tilt of the flask.

Bartels, then a professor at Feather River College in Quincy, had fallen in love with the old wooden skis that he saw in the local museum and that locals sometimes dug up in their sheds. He started a crafting class for them.

Once they made the skis, they had to race on them, Bartels explained.

The trick to speed was, as it was in the days of the gold rush, the wax, called dope. Which explained the checkered hats for sale at the February event that proclaimed “Dope is King.”

Modern fluorocarbons are not allowed and they all have their own recipe. Back when Bartels was racing as Eureka Pete, he used to prefer paraffin, a little bit of turpentine and some WD-40.

Bartels has lived in Plumas County since 1972, which he says makes him a relative newcomer to these parts.

“When I first got here, there was a traffic light across the county,” he said. “Now there are four or five.”

The races are held on the third Sunday of January, February and March. Early in the morning at last month’s event, the park’s parking lot was full.

People with children and dogs, and in some cases dogs pulling children on sleds and vice versa, trudged up a long, steep path on a blue-sky morning as the sun reflected off a layer of fresh snow.

In front of a ski lodge built around 1958, the Feather River Jubilation Orchestra played a lively mix of bluegrass, vintage jigs, Eastern European classics and whatever else amateur musicians wanted. The banjoist almost lost his house in the fires. The accordionist had been evacuated for weeks and stayed with one of the violinists.

The CEO of the event was drinking his second Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. If the race ended with an odd number of entrants, he said, he would be forced to run and that required libations.

Robin Adrian-Murray, holding her grandson Mason, pointed and said, “Look, there’s your cousin Sierra.”

It was the third time a reporter had heard Sierra singled out, each time referring to a different woman.

“I guess it’s a common name around here,” Adrian-Murray said. “But not really. I can only think of four or five Sierras I know of.”

He learned to ski on this hill when he was four years old. Later, she and her husband, who also grew up in the area, left to find her future.

“But I always liked mountains and being up high, so I convinced him to move.”

They are one of 10 families that live in Johnsville year-round. Their children learned to ski here and now they bring their children.

Mountain communities have long tried to raise money to install a ski lift and reopen these slopes in what is believed to be America’s first alpine ski area.

But there has been hardly any snow for six years.

“There was a cleanup at Christmas that gave us hope, but not much since then. And with the fires, a lot of things are gone,” Adrian-Murray said.

“But we’re really lucky up here. This is our backyard,” he said, nodding toward the craggy, snow-capped Eureka Peak, once called Gold Mountain because of the $25 million in gold produced from mining. of hard rock at the end of the 19th century. .

The races were held in heats, two riders at a time. In one of the first men’s races of the day, a skier fell immediately, struggling to get up on his long planks.

The other fell. They both gave up on regaining an upright posture and sat on their skis for a photo finale of two awkward sleds.

Monica Rutter, visiting San Rafael for the first time, cheered loudly.

During the pandemic his family had painted rocks, raised butterflies, baked bread.

“We’re close, and we believe that if you focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have, you will persevere.” she said.

But she is a lawyer for the US Postal Service, and thousands of those workers have gotten sick with COVID-19. Several of those who died were close co-workers. Her aunt and cousin in South America died. Her daughter spent her senior year of high school at home. Her 14-year-old son has become increasingly wary of getting infected. She and her husband, both government attorneys, have been under more work stress than ever.

“We’re very lucky. But…” he said, pausing for a long moment. “It’s still hard. I’m so happy to be here now. There are friendly people. There’s beer. There are dogs. What’s not to love?”

He said he was going to tell his 82-year-old father, who plays soccer four times a week, about the event.

“Because the old guys have a thing for Gold Country,” he said, as several people around him nodded in agreement.

Announcer John Sheehan made the announcement for a new event: The Pooches on the Podium Photo Shoot. (Get your “Dogs of Longboards” calendar this spring.) Some 25 owners with multiple pets gathered on the platform.

The malamute turned around to face the camera. A Labradoodle climbed onto a lap. The owner of a shiny black labrador propped his dog’s front paw up in the air as if he were waving. But the reporter from the local newspaper put down the camera.

“Where’s Annie?” she screamed. “Annie is not in the photo.”

A small wiry dog ​​was produced, placed in the front row, and the portrait was taken.

Sheehan has been hosting the event for two decades, and prior to the final moto, he asked over the loudspeaker for the gentleman in the red jacket to move, as he was making it difficult for drunken judges to see the red finish line. The Clampers, an organization known for putting up historic plaques and, well, drinking, serve as judges for the event. The spectator took his precious place but took off his coat.

Now it was time for experienced riders to head down the mountain.

Two local men ran, which consisted of crouching motionless on two polished boards speeding down a mountain.

Ryan Murray, 32, won a heat that guaranteed a spot at the World Longboard Championships on Sunday. He is Mason’s father, Sierra’s cousin, and belongs to a group called the Young Guns by the Greybeards.

Bartels, who gave Murray extra credit for his creative trash-talking before the race, said the Graybeards had held on to their titles longer than they thought they could, mainly because the younger guys tended to party late into the night. last night.

But now, plagued by joint problems, weak hearts and bad shoulders, they can no longer fly downhill at 80 mph on skis twice their height.

But they run the show, encourage trash talk and turn down certain Norwegians who insist downhill racing started in Norway.

“They don’t have a shred of written evidence,” Bartels said.

He continues to dig into history and recently read how in the 19th century, China’s miners were entrusted with the task of judging and placing sizeable bets.

“Maybe kids raced each other from school in Norway on snowshoes, but the real downhill racing started here in California,” he said.

Sheehan, the announcer, said the races, which encourage “whiskeying” and historical dress, which explains the many top hats, gingham skirts and hip flasks, are an important legacy.

“How it works here, is that we give a good deference to having fun,” he said. “When times are tough, it’s important to stop thinking about things and focus on enjoying each other.”

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