Folks young and old make the quarter-mile trek through mushy snow to line up along makeshift fencing beside the one wide-open, sloping ski trail at the base of Eureka Peak at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl.
Longboard World Championships
Feb. 17 & March 17 | 12 p.m.
Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl | Johnsville
It is pouring cold rain and the local competitors are wearing 19th-Century period clothing that could’ve belonged to their great-great-great grandparents. Plumas Ski Club members claim the first ski races in North America took place on Eureka Peak by miners and their families in the mid-1800s.
First up are the women. After some trustworthy flask passing at the discretion of the participants, the skiers take their marks, slipping leather boots into leather bindings and preparing to descend to 300-foot slope with lone pole in hand.
The opening race is between two sisters from Portola – Abby and Madi Marshall. After a 3-second countdown, the gong sounds from behind and they are off. Abby is a longboard veteran who introduced her older sister to the sport and she easily takes the preliminary contest. The run only lasts about 30 seconds, but the crowd loves it as the sisters play up their sibling rivalry.
“My goal every time is just to cross the finish line,” says Abby. “I imagine myself going left and I go left. I have a little bit of nerves flying down a mountain on 12-foot skis I made myself.”
There are seven women and nine men entered in the competition today who hail from Quincy to Meyers and everywhere in between.
“The winner races, the loser drinks beer,” says second-place finisher Greg Hinds of Graeagle. “I grew up skiing here and I think a lot of us feel the same way. We do it because we love the community and we love the area. People want to be part of it.”
“The purpose is the revitalization of local history and community-based recreation,” says Adam Henriques of Meyers whose epic faceplant in the men’s semifinals landed him in the bronze-medal position. “This is skiing at its finest.”
To build the longboards, enthusiasts take a 2-inch-by-6-inch-by-16-foot plank of vertical grain Douglas fir and shape it into skis. Classes to help would-be racers create their gear from scratch are offered at Feather River College and Quincy Junior Senior High School woodshop; Sierra Pacific Industries often donates the raw materials.
Competitors also cook their own dope, or wax, from secret formulas made up of ingredients you’d find in an 1870 mining camp’s general store. This list, though closely guarded, includes lye soap, pine pitch, turpentine and paraffin.
“Dope is king,” says Henriques. “It’s not the best racer who wins every year. If you have good stuff, you have a better chance.”
A spirit of community
Through events such as these, Plumas Ski Club is raising money to reopen the former volunteer-driven hill that used to host a ski-bus program from area schools and draw large crowds on winter weekends.
Every September, Drew Fisher organizes Lost Sierra Hoedown to gather funds and energy toward this goal. He says the festival has donated $30,000 toward the restoration of the ski hill. So far, they have gotten a groomer, rebuilt the maintenance shed to the house, shored up the deck to the lodge with new railings, renovated the main building, replaced the plumbing in the bathrooms, acquired an old Squaw Valley mainline chairlift to install where the Poma used to run, purchased a generator and rerouted the electrical in the lodge to make it safe and functional. Fisher, like other drivers of this historical restoration project, does believe reopening the ski lift to the public in the future is a possibility, but that’s not really what it’s all about.
“We have free community sledding days with a groomed slope, an open lodge to warm up in and classic lodge food options at affordable prices, not to mention functional bathrooms,” Fisher says. “Six years ago, none of that was a possibility. Johnsville Ski Bowl will never be a five-star ski resort with gondolas and a village, but that’s the whole point: to provide the community with affordable outdoor recreation. So, when I see kids hiking little, hand-shoveled jumps alongside the longboard races, Johnsville Ski Bowl in my mind is open.”
After the races, everyone gathers inside the lodge to listen to the loose old-time jamming of Feather River Jubilation Orchestra, dry out by the timeworn fireplace and share another sip from the flask to warm body and soul.
“It’s all about that sense of community,” says Abby Marshall. “A lot of people in younger generations are seeking that out. I grew up around here and always loved the Gold Rush history. Just like me, a lot of us moved away and have come back.” | plumasskiclub.org
Longboard Race Jan. 20, 2019
1st: Alice Berg, Mohawk Valley
2nd: Abby Marshall, Portola
3rd: Rachel Bauer, Quincy
1st: Dave Arsenault, Quincy
2nd: Greg Hinds, Graeagle
3rd: Adam Henriquez, Meyers