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This year marks the 150th anniversary of ski clubs and ski racing in North America, and the first in North America. Thanks to the research of the Plumas Ski Club and the Plumas County Museum, there is documented evidence of both clubs and racing in the gold camps of the “Lost Sierra” of California. The mining camps had had their day by the late 19th century. This very early history was the history of Far West skiing until the 1920s, when transportation became available to get to the nearer ski slopes. And so it rested until the meetings in 1930.
FWSA has its roots in both California and the Pacific Northwest. Both regions hosted the founding of ski association in 1930. The California Ski Association was founded by 4 ski clubs on October 7, 1930 in the Garden Room of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The meeting was scheduled by the Winter Sports Committee of the California Chamber of Commerce, but the ski clubs had other ideas. Elected President was Wendell Robie of the Auburn Ski Club, shown at right in his youth.
The Association grew from a few clubs to 33 clubs in California alone by 1940. Then came World War II and development of both ski areas and new skiers was on hold until the 1946 snow season. The return of veterans and the now-available transportation to the slopes saw a wave of recreational skiers through the 1950s. Then the explosive effects of televised winter sports from the 1960 Winter Olympics really took effect and the growth of clubs accelerated even further. In 1963 there were 128 affiliated ski clubs in California alone; add to that the dozens of clubs in the northwest and Nevada. By 1970, there were 170 ski clubs in California, Nevada and Arizona. Today that number for the 13-state area is probably over 250.
The first ski council was formed in Seattle in 1933. Council formation commenced in earnest right after the war. The California Ski Association originally devised a top-down organization by districts. But grass roots organizing from the ground up replaced districts first with Federations of clubs and then by councils. From 4 California councils in 1970, FWSA now has 11 councils serving the 13-state region. Councils and clubs are now the building blocks of FWSA, replacing the formerly large numbers of unaffiliated skiers. There is today a trend toward virtual organizations.
The name FWSA originates with the affiliation under the National Ski Association. When that organization reconstituted itself in 1948 as the United States Ski Association, the California Ski Association and the Pacific NW Ski Association were both recognized as divisions of USSA. Since 1983, however, FWSA has operated independently except for a council federation affiliation with NCSF.
The front line programs of FWSA consist of travel services to members since 1955, an annual ski week in North America since 1973 and now one internationally, league racing by skill classes (race card not required) since 1964, close relationships with industry, a quarterly insiders newsletter – the Councilman , an annual slick magazine – the Skiers Guide – now enhanced by digital content, an athletic scholarship program, continuing awareness of matters affecting skiers and ski areas with a public affairs program, and a continuing education series for club officers.
The skiers of the Far West region and the members of FWSA – organized skiing – have made history for 150 years – and they are still making history.
Thanks to John Watson, Past President and History Chair for this article
FWSA currently serves skiers and boarders in a 13-state territory, from Colorado west to Hawaii and Alaska. The membership includes both direct, individual members and the much larger numbers in clubs. The programs conducted by the Association may be found on its website at FWSA.org.