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Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture
Tahoe Arts and Mountain Culture

Hike with Snowshoe Thompson at Van Sickle Feb 28

Posted on February 11, 2015
Filed Under South Tahoe Events

snowshoethompsonLearn how tough Snowshoe Thompson really was during the 3-mile hike in the Van Sickle Bi-State Park on February 28, 2015 from 10am to 1pm with the TRT gang.

You’ll be crossing Snowshoe’s winter tracks over which he famously carried the mail for two decades in the mid-1800s back and forth from Genoa, Nevada to Hangtown, California.  You’ll follow “Snowshoe” himself brought to life with Chautauqua performer Steve Hale of Comstock Characters. Bring your imagination and be prepared to be transported back to the winter of 1865. 

He is considered the father of California skiing.  A true mountaineer in every sense of the word.  Snowshoe Thompson weathered 90 mile treks over snowdrifts up to 50 feet high and through blizzards with up to 80 mph winds on 10 foot long 25 lb. skis to deliver the mail  in a pack often weighing 100 pounds.  What a stud.

Don’t miss the Snowshoe Thompson hike in cooperation with the Tahoe Rim Trail.  For more info, click here.

Snowshoe Thompson (April 30, 1827 – May 15, 1876) was the nickname for the Norwegian-American John A. Thompson. He was undoubtedly one the best mountaineers to ever ski through Lake Tahoe.

From 1856 to 1876 he delivered the mail two to four times a month, taking him 3 days to travel between Placerville, CA and Genoa, NV, and two days on the return trip.  Legend has it that the Nevada foothill residents would watch Thompson descend from Genoa Peak in his classic stance with snow flying behind him.  He didn’t use a compass, and navigated by day using familiar trees, rocks, streams, animal tracks, and snowdrifts. At night, he’d use the stars.

Thompson always wore a wide rimmed hat, and covered his face in charcoal to prevent snow blindness. He only rested briefly and didn’t carry blankets although he did carry matches to start fires.  If a storm slowed his passage, he would dance to old Norwegian folk songs on top of a cleared rock to stay warm.

Despite his nickname, he did not use snowshoes as we think of them today. Instead he used ten-foot (over 3-meter) skis, and a single sturdy pole held in both hands. His version of cross-country skiing came from his native Scandinavia. In fact, he was one of the first to introduce cross-country skiing to the U.S.  In addition to delivering the mail for 20 years without pay, Thompson also delivered the first silver ore to be mined from the Comstock Lode.

Currently, a pair of skis Snowshoe made for his ailing son along with a handwritten note to his wife are on display at the Explore Tahoe Visitor Center located at Stateline.

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