A mid-summer day’s ski: snow, sun in the Sierra
It hasn’t happened in years, but every so often the Storm King really kicks open the storm door and the Sierra Nevada gets relentlessly hammered with heavy snow. Wet winters often generate long-lasting snowpacks, which have inspired some Sierra resorts to run chair lifts for skiers and boarders on the Fourth of July. The novelty of skiing snow in the morning and then swimming or sailing in the warm afternoon sun attracts thousands – locals as well as enthusiasts from California and Western Nevada. The idea of selling snowsports in July may sound too good to be true to folks blistering in triple digit heat in the lowlands, but the concept has a long history in the Sierra. California’s first mid-summer ski tournament was held on July 4, 1932, at Sugar Bowl ski resort near Donner Pass.
Worth the hikeSnowfall accumulation was double normal during the winter of 193132, and the Auburn Ski Club decided to take advantage of the exceptional conditions. They invited the best skiers in the west to participate in this novel promotional event. More than 200 men and women arrived by car via Interstate 40 and then hiked a mile and a half over mountain trails to witness the competition. Three classes of ski jumpers intended to launch from the snow deposition zone under the bluffs of the Sugarbowl. Among those entered was Roy Mikkelsen, whose jump of 226 feet was the longest of any American in the 1932 Olympics, which had recently been held in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Auburn Ski Club also sponsored an unusual two-mile coed cross-country ski race. Andrew Blodger, California’s champion cross-country racer was there, as well as Mrs. Sigrid Stromstad of San Francisco, the national women’s racing champion that year. Spectators dressed according to age and attitude. Some wore the serious regulation ski garb popularized by the American Olympic team at Lake Placid, while a few sun worshippers sported “skimpy bathing costumes.” Many of the younger women present wore a modified ski outfit, featuring shorts and bare legs. Held under a blazing sun, the competition was exciting, but also a bit rigged. As host and sponsor of the event, the Auburn Ski Club had a ringer in Roy Mikkelsen, who was competing under the Auburn colors for the first time. Already an Olympic-caliber athlete and the best amateur jumper in America, Mikkelsen secured his all-around ski reputation with a double victory.
Both his jumps were perfect leaps, and he followed that win by taking the sharp-turned 220-yard slalom ski race in 27.4 seconds, nearly four seconds better than his nearest competitor, Jess Maxom of the Truckee Ski Club.Andy Blodger, state cross-country champion, placed third in the slalom with a time of 33.8 seconds. Nordic racer Sigred Stromstad did not place, but defeated many of the men entered in the downhill event. The Class A jumping competition, caught on motion picture film by W. Lowry, was intense, with Mikkelsen fighting off Sig Vettestad, California’s state jumping champion, who placed a close second. Mikkelsen later put on an exhibition jump in which he improved his winning distance by about 10 feet.Drama on the course
Wayne Poulsen, founder of Squaw Valley and member of the Reno Ski Club, competed in the Class C jumping event. On his last attempt, Poulsen slipped just before he got to the takeoff, knocking down a pair of skis standing in the snow and sending one ski point-first toward a large group of spectators at the base of the hill. It missed the head of Wendell T. Robie, chief judge in the competition and first president of the Auburn Ski Club, by just three inches. The errant ski flew past and struck a woman spectator, who luckily suffered nothing worse than a broken rib. The Sierra’s first mid-summer ski competition concluded later that day, after which the sunburned skiers and spectators returned to their lairs for a hearty round of nightcaps and summer revelry in the mountains.Roy Johan Mikkelsen, a native of Kongsberg, Norway, continued to compete for the Auburn Ski Club, twice winning the U.S. Ski Jumping Championships. He was held in such high esteem that he was elected mayor of Auburn in 1952. The legendary Sierra ski historian, William B. Berry, once said, “Roy Mikkelsen was the Far West’s first truly great Alpine competitor.” Mikkelsen lived for the challenge of skisport and helped elevate California skiing to world class status.But that is a story to be told another day. Mark McLaughlin’s award-winning books, “Western Train Adventures: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” and “Sierra Stories: True Tales of Tahoe, Vol. 1 & 2” are available at local bookstores. Mark, a Carnelian Bay resident, can be reached at email@example.com.