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Skiing

What do these photos tell you about how miners got around in the winter?

Skiing Near Irwin

This photo of men on skis was taken near the mining town of Irwin, which was located west of Crested Butte in Gunnison County.

Skiing Near Irwin

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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In the late 1800s, skis were called Norwegian snow-shoes. Miners used them during the winter to go from one mountain town to another. At that time, skiers used a long pole to help them turn.

Their Own Words

"I made me a pair of snow-shoes [skis] and, of course, was not an expert. Sometimes I would fall; and, on one occasion, as I was going down the mountain to Gold Run, my shoes got crossed in front as I was going very fast. A little pine-tree was right in my course, and I could not turn, and dare not encounter the tree with the shoes crossed; and so threw myself onto the snow, and went in out of sight."

Source: John Dyer, The Snow-Shoe Itinerant, (Cincinnati: Cranston & Stowe, 1890), reprinted in Carl Ubbelohde, et. al, eds., A Colorado Reader, (Boulder: Pruett Press, 1982): 154.

Delivering Mail On Skis

The man on skis in this photo is a mailman. He is delivering mail to a mountain mining camp.

Delivering Mail On Skis

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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During the winter, mailmen used skis to deliver the mail in the mountains. The threat of avalanches made this a dangerous job.

Their Own Words

"The most welcome of all in the mining camps far up the Rocky Mountain peaks are the mail carriers. Brave, hardy fellows they are that climb the peaks on snowshoes [skis], delivering the mail and many precious packages that always fill the pouch. Delivering the mails in the mountains in midwinter is a difficult and dangerous work. Sometimes the carrier is swept away by a snowslide, and months roll away before the brave fellow and his pouch are found. . ."            "The carrier in the frontier of the Rocky Mountains straps the mail sack on his back, puts on his Norwegian showshoes [skis], and, with a long guiding pole, starts on his weary climb over the range. Usually there is a crowd at the post office to wish him good luck. Only men of known strength and courage can do this work, for twenty-five pounds of letters, papers, and packages become very heavy and burdensome in climbing the mountains."

Source: Colorado Graphic April 18, 1891, in Colorado Magazine, 17 (January 1940): 36.

Women Skiing (1905)

This photo of women on skis was taken in 1905 somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

Women Skiing

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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By the early 1900s, skiing also was a form of recreation. Women as well as men skied for fun.

Their Own Words

“. . . In the wintertime my mother used to go out skiing with us. My dad never did, because he didn’t care much about skiing. They made them [their skis]. They had one-by-fours [lengths of wood], and they’d boil them and then stick it in the log cabin [between the logs] and wait until the end turned up. But they made their own skis. They were slick, and, of course, they’d put paraffin or something, wax, whatever they had, on them. Sometimes lard. One night we were ski-riding in the moonlight and there was one pole out in the field. [Mother] said she knew she was going to hit that post, and she did, head-on. So that took care of her skiing. She wouldn’t go skiing with us anymore.”

Source: Iris Self Lyons quoted in Julie Jones-Eddy, ed. Homesteading Women: An Oral History of Colorado, 1890-1950 (New York: Twayne, 1992): 97.