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John “Snowshoe” Thompson

Hall of Fame Class of 1970

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Thompson trekked the High Sierra on eight foot groove less skis, wrote articles describing ski contests in the mountains and carried the mail through the Sierra Nevada mountain range on skis for twenty years.

John A. Thompson (as Snowshoe spelled his name) or Thomson (as it appears on his grave marker) immigrated to America in 1837 at 10 years of age from Telemarken, Norway. He was born April 30, 1827 and died at 49 years of age on May 15, 1876 at his Diamond Valley ranch in Alpine County, California. This is a short distance from his ski-crested gravestone near Genoa in Nevada.

Snowshoe used skis 7 ½ to 8 feet long, groove less but cambered and not greatly different from modern-day versions. He wrote about “scientific” skiing, his articles defining ski contests comparable to “downhill” and “slalom”.

Thompson’s description of “stakes to be stuck in a straight line every hundred feet through the track, and I will leave the first one to the right, the next one to the left and so on until I get through” sounds very much like slalom events of today – “and when my shoes stop running, my back shall be turned toward the outcome, and my face up hill…” what current race spectator or TV fan has not seen competitors do just that after each run? He even specified “jumps to be made every 200 feet by piling snow up, each jump to be five feet high, and I will run over them all.”

In 1856, Thompson read an ad in the Sacramento Union which said: “People lost to the world. Uncle Sam needs mail carrier.” Knowing mail carriers had a difficult time crossing the mountains in winter, he made hand-hewn “snowshoes” which he felt would enable him to carry the mail with little or no trouble. Snowshoe was confident that he was the man for the job and he showed the postmaster his equipment. Though the postmaster was unimpressed he had little choice but to hire him. Snowshoe carried the mail traveling 25 to 40 miles a day in all types of weather between Placerville and Genoa from 1856 to 1876.

Snowshoe Thompson memorabilia are in the Western America Skisport Museum and include his skis and mailbag.

John Albert “Snowshoe” Thompson was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1970.

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