Monday Morning Brief | Yes, mail was once delivered on skis

May 2, 2021, 9 PM

In the second installment of his series focusing on mail delivery and transport, Scott catalog senior editor Tim Hodge discusses a pair of rugged characters who used skis to move the mail during harsh winter conditions in California and Oregon. Part one also is available for viewing.

Full Video Transcript:

Good morning stamp collectors! Welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for October 31. My name is Tim Hodge.

This week is the second installment of a little series on the history and methods of mail transport and delivery.

Today we are discussing ski delivery.

In the dead of winter in frigid northern regions, mail delivery was problematic. Reaching the remotest post offices often took a Herculean effort. The motto “neither snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” aptly states these heroes’ objectives.

Probably the most famous mail carrier on skis was John Thompson, also known as Snowshoe Thompson. In 1855, he responded to an ad in the Sacramento Union: “People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam needs a Mail Carrier.”

Between 1856 and 1876, the Norwegian-born Thompson carried mail between Placerville, California, and Genoa, Nevada — an 80-mile, treacherous route through the Sierra Nevada mountains, near Lake Tahoe. The journey took three days from Genoa to Placerville, and two days, with a lighter pack, back to Genoa.

Despite his name, Snowshoe Thompson did not use snowshoes on this trek; rather, he used 10-foot skis and a pole in both hands.

Another early mail carrier on skis was John Craig. He carried mail between the Willamette Valley and Camp Polk in Oregon. Unfortunately, around Christmas 1877, Craig started off on the 45-mile journey to Camp Polk. His body was discovered the following spring in a small hut he had built for shelter in the mountain pass.

During the winters of 1865 and 1866, Granville Zackariah operated an express between Dowieville and La Port, California, also on Norwegian snowshoes, or skis, like Thompson. The terrain between the two towns was trackless wilderness. At some point in 1866, George Cook took over the route and continued its operation until 1870.

Today the mail is not delivered by skis. On occasion, people still ski to the post office to send and pick up their mail. On January 2, 2014, with the temperatures around 16 degrees Fahrenheit, a brave fellow delivered mail to his post office in Avon, Ohio, on a pair of skis. This picture is of his tracks in the snow after the delivery.

Thanks for listening. Have a wonderful day!