You've got to love a winter sport where the only formal rules are no spitting, swearing or cheating, coupled with an informal admonition that there is to be no intentional contact to gain an advantage. We're talking longboard skiing here, folks, and according to Plumas County, Calif., historical records, the sport dates back to the 1860s where miners used wood skis of their own making to travel and recreate. Eureka Peak in Plumas County also lays claim to having the first ski lift made of ore buckets, which used to haul miners to the summit for the wild descent on skis. Both facts give weight to Plumas County's claim to being the home of the oldest recorded sport skiing in the Western Hemisphere.
But enough history. Longboarding is still alive and well, and the 18th annual "world" championships were held on March 16 at Plumas Eureka State Park in Plumas County. Racers wear historic attire, leather boots are required, and only authentic, homemade "dope" wax is allowed. Many of the dope concoctions date back to the 19th century -- if rumor is to be believed -- and all are private secrets guarded by the makers as jealously as one protects a treasure map leading to a fortune in gold bullion.
The skis are made of wood (poplar or pine are most common) and are 12-feet to 16-feet long and 2-inches thick -- perfect for flying straight downhill. Imagine strapping two narrow wooden toboggans to your feet, and then using a long pole to launch yourself down a steep hill with no hope of turning should something or someone get in your way. Participants use the 6-foot pole to control their speed and maintain their balance by braking to one side or the other. To slow or stop, they place the pole between their legs, and if the pole breaks, it becomes something affectionately referred to by racers as a "soprano stick."
SNEWS® has attended the festivities in the past and can attest to the raucous though familial air of the event that pays tribute to the pioneer spirit of the 1800s. The Plumas Ski Club even has a motto: "Skiing and whiskeying in the Sierra Nevada since 1874." Recognizing that fact, even the rangers of the state park (where alcoholic beverages are prohibited) are tolerant as flasks of quite clearly distilled beverages are passed among the racers before heading downhill -- courage comes in many forms.
The winners of the 2008 Annual World Longboard Ski Championships were Allison Youngs from Quincy, Calif., in the women's division, and Phil Gallagher from Meadow Valley, Calif., in the men's division.
If you're thinking of entering next year's race, you'll need a pair of skis which you can either make yourself, borrow from a club at the time of the event, or have Ohio-based Lightning Boards (www.lightningboards.com) make a set. The company's motto is "Size Definitely Matters," and it reportedly sells about 100 pairs of handmade wooden skis each year.
For more on longboard skiing's history and the World Longboard Ski Championships, click here.