The Oldest Records of Skiing in the Western Hemisphere Emanate from This California Ski Area

Gregg Frantz | | Industry NewsIndustry News
1949 Cotton Bowl Tow. Photo Credit: Jervie Henry Eastman

Skiing in the United States is rich with history and stories of settlers moving west across the country in the early 1900s. The oldest ski resorts in the country are located in the western part of the nation which is odd since early American settlements began on the East Coast. Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Colorado, opened in 1915 and is recognized as the oldest continuously operated ski area in North America.

However, there is a ski area located in California that boasts it was the first place in the Western Hemisphere to host the sport of skiing. The year was 1860. Plumas-Eureka Ski Bowl is nestled in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains and in the mid-1800s the Alturas Ski Club was formed and held ski races on 14-foot “longboards” in an area that would eventually become a ski area, according to the club’s website. The current name for the bowl is the Johnsville Historic Bowl and it is the oldest continuously operated ski area with organized downhill ski races in North America. 

La Porte Races at Plumas. (Sometime between 1904-1918) Photo Credit:

The Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl is currently not running and has been faced with financial difficulties since the late 90s. Those problems began in February of 1997 when both of its lifts and generators had overwhelming mechanical failures which forced the ski bowl to close. The cost to replace and repair the equipment at the time was estimated at over $200,000 and the ski club was forced to come up with a long-term business and capital improvement plan for the future.

Later that year, the Plumas Ski Club raised funds and people volunteered to help repair its broken equipment. The club then hired an executive director to manage the ski bowl. In January 1998, the ski bowl re-opened on Saturdays only and provided only one lift for uphill service. Later that spring, the ski bowl fully re-opened with both lifts operating, but it came with a price tag that put the ski bowl into a debt of $15,000. The ski bowl was forced to close again and the status of the skiing at the hill has remained in question since the late 90s.

1949 Snow Cat. Photo Credit: Jervie Henry Eastman

The Plumas Ski Club’s mission is to raise funds for continued maintenance and hopes of re-opening the historic ski bowl. The club has consisted of volunteers since the ski bowl opened and is hoping to re-open the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl as soon as possible. This past January, events were held at Johnsville Ski Bowl which promoted the historic longboard races that were organized in that area over a century and a half ago. The races are funded by the Plumas Ski Club and its purpose is to promote community skiing activities in the lost Sierra. Its ultimate goal is to raise enough funds for the maintenance and eventual re-opening of the Johnsville Historic Bowl. 

For information on the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl. visit its website. 

Historic Longboard Race Revival Series. Photo Credit: The Plumas Ski Club

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