John "Snowshoe" Thompson (February 2010)

This program featured  John "Snowshoe" Thompson, Norwegian Immigrant - Father of California skiing.

We saw a half-hour film of his life produced in 2007 by NRK, the official Norwegian broadcasting company, and shown originally on Norwegian TV. Done mostly in English, it has some Norwegian speakers (with English subtitles).  Lodge member, Lynn Juhl, will introduce the film, and handle questions afterward.

About John "Snowshoe" Thompson


Born Jon Torsteinson-Rue in 1827 in Tinn, Norway, he emigrated with his family in 1837 first to Fox Grove, Illinois, then to Missouri, Iowa and finally to Dane County, Wisconsin, where he took up farming. He changed his name to John Thompson, and at age 24 in 1851 joined the Gold Rush to California. He was unsuccessful in finding enough gold to live on, so he took up farming and ranching in the Sacramento Valley.

He heard about the settlers living east of the Sierra Navada Mountains who had no mail delivery and no contact with the outside world in the winter months. Seeking adventure, John decided to make a pair of skis from his childhood memories of Norway. He practiced in secret so as not to be ridiculed by his neighbors, because no one in the American West had ever seen skis like his ("snowshoes," as they called them).

He applied to the U.S. Postmaster with a plan for him to deliver mail by skis in the winter and by horseback the rest of the year over the 90 miles between Placerville, California, and Genoa, Nevada, in Carson Valley east of Lake Tahoe. He accomplished this feat (a five day round-trip) in snow blizzard conditions, and continued his service without pay for 18 years (1856-1874), until the coming of the railroad.

He died in 1876 at age 49, leaving a wife and son.

From a plaque on his grave:

"On his homemade snowshoes John carried the mail and supplies over the snowy Sierras for 20 winters. As he traveled, he saved the lives of seven people who were snowbound in mountain cabins. In 1866, after this tall Norwegian became an American citizen, he homesteaded a 160-acre ranch in Diamond Valley. Respected by all who knew him, John was elected to the Alpine County Board of Supervisors."