Preserving Sierra ski history on film

Ty Dayberry at the Johnsville Longboard races.

John Dayberry wants to make sure that the history of early Sierra Nevada mountaineering isn’t easily forgotten. He is using his experience in wood-shop instruction, environmental restoration, back-country ski-shop management in Hope Valley and a drive to share indigenous wisdom in the modern age to document that history.

“SST-X” is a home-grown documentary film project to preserve Tahoe Sierra mountaineering heritage that goes back hundreds of years.

On an archeological quest to learn about the early mountaineers in the Eastern Sierra, Dayberry started reading books on Snowshoe Thompson, aka John Albert Thompson, who delivered mail in the snowy mountains of the Sierra in the 1800s, as well as the history of back-country skiing and the indigenous Washoe who were at the forefront of a sport that has gained great popularity today. “SST-X” stands for Snowshoe Thompson Expedition.

John Dayberry surveys Snowshoe Thompson’s skis at the El Dorado County Museum.

“In the 1990s, I really started to research this and 5 years ago began putting the data together. Two years ago, I decided to start working on a documentary and interviewing the Washoe elders,” Dayberry says. “There are many facets to the ‘SST-X’ project. Around the time that the Gold Rush was happening in the 1850s, Snowshoe came out West and started carrying the mail from Genoa, Nev., to Placerville. It was a three-day trek since the Pony Express couldn’t get over the mountain. They handed the mail off to Snowshoe.”

Snowshoe’s preferred mode of transportation to deliver the goods was a 10-foot pair of wooden snow skis to get across the Sierra and a single pole used to propel and navigate. There is no record of Snowshoe receiving payment for his early U.S. Postal Service work, but he did make a name for himself in American skiing.

As an avid telemarker, Dayberry tried to figure out Snowshoe’s delivery route and realized that the guy went everywhere. Thus the “SST-X” project was born in an attempt to re-create his route on early ski equipment.

In Dayberry’s attempt to answer the questions of how early settlers and Native Americans navigated the Sierra Nevada, he began revitalizing the original snowshoes and canoes to use in his own re-creation of the expedition.

Legendary Dave Beck, pioneer of the Sierra High Route.

“I’ve been working with the natives to try to get the younger generation to understand what the earlier generation went through in trekking across over to Hope Valley and Carson Pass to get salmon, smoke it and take it back over the hill,” he says.

Other routes included in his documentary are the Kit Carson Trail and Donner Pass. John C. Fremont, a U.S. Army Corps lieutenant commissioned by the government to explore the unmapped territory of the Pacific Northwest. “We are helping to heal the tribes when we start recognizing them. The most rewarding work I’ve ever done is in cultural revitalization,” he says. “There are amazing stories from the Washoe elders, ones you don’t find in history books.”

The “SST-X” documentary is currently at 1 hour, 20 minutes and Dayberry and his crew are in the process of finalizing the trailer and trying to drum up funds for additional research. He is currently planning races with the “SST-X” Longboard Team and a demo day at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

For additional information about the “SST-X” film, expedition, upcoming races and fundraisers, visit facebook.com/sstxfilm/.