History of skiing

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Skiing, or traveling over snow on skis, has a history of almost five millennia. Although modern skiing has evolved from beginnings in Scandinavia, it may have been practised as early as 600 BC in Daxing'anling, in what is now China.[1]

Originally purely utilitarian, starting in the mid-1800s skiing became a popular recreational activity and sport, being practised around the world, and providing crucial economic support to purpose-built ski resorts and communities.[2]

Etymology and usage[edit]

The word ski comes from the Old Norse word "skíð" which means stick of wood or ski.[3] The word "ski" has a wider meaning in Norwegian, for instance "vedski" meaning "splitwood for making fire" or "skigard" meaning "a wooden split-rail fence".[4]

In modern Norwegian this word is usually pronounced [ˈʃiː]. English and French use the original spelling "ski", and modify the pronunciation. In Italian it is pronounced as in Norwegian, and the spelling is modified: "sci". German and Spanish adapt the word to their linguistic rules; "Schier" (however there is a form- Ski) and "esquí". Many languages make a verb form out of the noun, such as "to ski" in English, "skier" in French, "esquiar" in Spanish, "sciare" in Italian, or "schilaufen" (as above also Ski laufen or Ski fahren) in German which is not possible in Norwegian. In Swedish, a close relation to Norwegian, the word is "skidor" (pl.).

Finnish has its own ancient words for skis and skiing. In Finnish ski is suksi and skiing is hiihtää. The Sami also have their own words for skis and skiing. For example, the Lule Sami word for ski is "sabek" and skis are "sabega".

Early archaeological evidence[edit]

Roman mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale

The oldest information about skiing is based on archaeological evidence. A wooden ski dating from about 6300–5000 BC was found about 1,200 km northeast of Moscow at Lake Sindor.[5]

The Kalvträskskidan ski, found in Sweden dates to 3300 BCE, and the Vefsn Nordland ski, found in Norway is dated to 3200 BC.[6][7] Rock drawings in Norway dated at 4000 BC[8] depict a man on skis holding a stick. The earliest primitive carvings circa 5000 BCE depict a skier with one pole, located in Rødøy in the Nordland region of Norway. The first primitive ski was found in a peat bog in Hoting in Jämtland County in Sweden which dates back to 4500 or 2500 BCE. A ski excavated in Greenland is dated to 1010.[9]

In 1936, excavations at the Villa Romana del Casale, a 4th-century CE Roman Villa near Piazza Armerina in Sicily, by Giuseppe Cultrera revealed a mosaic floor which included a possible representation of a skier.[10] This is feasible, as Mount Etna on Sicily is snow- covered during the winter and early spring months.

Skiing as transportation[edit]

Norse mythology describes the god Ullr and the goddess Skaði hunting on skis. Early historical evidence includes Procopius' (around CE 550) description of Sami people as skrithiphinoi translated as "ski running samis".[11] Birkely argues that the Sami people have practiced skiing for more than 6000 years, evidenced by the very old Sami word čuoigat for skiing.[12] Egil Skallagrimsson's 950 CE saga describes King Haakon the Good's practice of sending his tax collectors out on skis.[13] The Gulating law (1274) stated that "No moose shall be disturbed by skiers on private land."[11]

Ski warfare, the use of ski-equipped troops in war, is first recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century. The speed and distance that ski troops are able to cover is comparable to that of light cavalry. Swedish writer Olaus Magnus's 1555 A Description of the Northern Peoples describes skiers and their climbing skins in Scricfinnia in what is now Norway.[14] The garrison in Trondheim used skis at least from 1675, and the Danish-Norwegian army included specialized skiing battalions from 1747 – details of military ski exercises from 1767 are retained.[15] Skis were used in military exercises in 1747.[16] In 1799 French traveller Jacques de la Tocnaye visits Norway and writes in his travel diary:[17]

In winter, the mail is transported through Filefjell mountain pass by a man on a kind of snow skates moving very quickly without being obstructed by snow drifts that would engulf both people and horses. People in this region move around like this. I've seen it repeatedly. It requires no more effort than what is needed to keep warm. The day will surely come when even those of other European nations are learning to take advantage of this convenient and cheap mode of transport.

Norwegian immigrants used skis ("Norwegian snowshoes") in the US midwest from around 1836. Norwegian immigrant "Snowshoe Thompson" transported mail by skiing across the Sierra Nevada between California and Nevada from 1856.[11] In 1888 Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and his team crossed the Greenland icecap on skis. Norwegian workers on the Buenos Aires - Valparaiso railway line introduced skiing in South America around 1890.[11] In 1910 Roald Amundsen used skis on his South Pole Expedition. In 1902 the Norwegian consul in Kobe imported ski equipment and introduced skiing to the Japanese, motivated by the death of Japanese soldiers during snow storm.[11]

Skiing as sport[edit]

The first recorded organized skiing exercises and races are from military uses of skis in Norwegian and Swedish infantries. For instance details of military ski exercises in the Danish-Norwegian army from 1767 are retained: Military races and exercises included downhill in rough terrain, target practice while skiing downhill, and 3 km cross-country skiing with full military backpack.[15]

Skiing as recreation[edit]

Evolution of equipment[edit]

Asymmetrical Skis[edit]

This type of skis has been used at least in northern Finland and Sweden up until late 19-hundreds. On one leg the skier wore a long straight non-arching ski for sliding, and on the other a shorter ski for kicking. The bottom of the short ski was either plain or covered with animal skin to aid this use, while the long ski supporting the weight of the skier was treated with animal fat in similar manner to modern ski waxing. Early record of this type of skis survives in works of Olaus Magnus.[35] He associates them to Sami people and gives Sami names of savek and golos for the plain and skinned short ski. Finnish names for these are lyly and kalhu for long and short ski.

Single Long Ski[edit]

The seal hunters at the Gulf of Bothnia had developed a special long ski to sneak into shooting distance to the seals' breathing holes, though the ski was useful in moving in the packed ice in general and was made specially long, 3–4 meters, to protect against cracks in the ice. This is called skredstång in Swedish.[36]

Modern Skis[edit]

Around 1850 artisans in Telemark, Norway invent the cambered ski. This ski arches up in the middle, under the binding, which distributes the skier's weight more evenly across the length of the ski. Earlier plank-style skis had to be thick enough not to bow downward and sink in the snow under the skier’s weight. This new design made it possible to build a thinner, lighter ski, that flexed more easily to absorb the shock of bumps, and that maneuvered and ran faster and more easily.[37] Norheim's ski was also the first with a sidecut that narrowed the ski underfoot while the tip and tail remained wider. This enabled the ski to flex and turn more easily.[37]

Beginning in 1891, skimakers in Norway began laminating two or more layers of wood together to make lighter cross country running skis. These evolved into the multi-laminated high-performance skis of the mid-1930s.[38]

In 1950 Howard Head introduced the Head Standard, constructed by sandwiching aluminum alloy around a plywood core. The design included steel edges (invented in 1928 in Austria,[37]) and the exterior surfaces were made of phenol formaldehyde resin which could hold wax. This hugely successful ski was unique at the time in having been designed for the recreational market, rather than for racing.[39] 1962: a fibreglass ski, Kneissl's White Star, was used by Karl Schranz to win two gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.[39] By the late '60s fibreglass had mostly replaced aluminum.

In 1974 Magne Myrmo becomes the last world champion (Falun, 15 km cross country) using wooden skis.[11]

In 1975 the torsion box ski construction design is patented.[40] The patent is referenced by Kästle, Salomon, Rottefella, and Madshus. In 1993 Elan introduced the Elan SCX. Skis with a much wider tip and tail than waist. When tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curved shape and carve a turn. Cross-country techniques use different styles of turns; edging is not as important, and skis have little sidecut. For many years, alpine skis were shaped similarly to cross-country, simply shorter and wider, but the Elan SCX introduced a radical sidecut design that dramatically improved performance. Other companies quickly followed suit, and it was realized in retrospect that "It turns out that everything we thought we knew for forty years was wrong."[37] The Twin-tip ski was introduced by Line in 1995.[41]

Bindings and boots[edit]

Sondre Norheim demonstrated Telemark skiing before 1866, and the Open Christiania in 1868, both made possible with a binding design (which dated back to the late 1840s). This binding innovation, also credited to Sondre, added a loop of twisted birch roots that ran from the existing birch root toe loops around the boot heels and back. This stiff heel loop allowed the heel to lift as before, for walking and gliding, but better held the boots to, and aligned with, the skis allowing greater torque to pivot the skis in a new direction than when the boot could easily pivot sideways in the toe loop. This enabled Sondre to control the skis with his feet and legs, replacing the former technique of dragging a large pole in the snow on one side or the other to drag the skier in that direction.[42] These new techniques spread throughout Telemark and would later be named for the region.[43] In 1894: Fritz Huitfeldt invented a binding with a secure toe iron which allowed the heel to move freely. This became the standard industry binding through the 1930s.

The release binding, the Saf-Ski, was invented by Hjalmar Hvam in 1939.

In 1955 the then world's leading ski boot company, Henke, introduced boots with buckles. It was not widely-adopted until the early 1960s, when Lange used them on their new plastic ski boots.[44] Salomon introduced the rear-entry boot in 1984.

Glide and grip[edit]

Johannes Scheffer in Argentoratensis Lapponiæ (History of Lapland) in 1673 probably gave the first recorded instruction for ski wax application[45] He advised skiers to use pine tar pitch and rosin. Ski waxing was also documented in 1761.[46]

1934 saw limited production of solid aluminum skis in France. Wax does not stick to aluminum, so the base under the foot included grips to prevent backsliding, a precursor of modern fish scale waxless skis.[47] In 1970 waxless Nordic skis were made with fishscale bases.[39] Klister, which helps get a grip in warm snow, was invented and patented in 1913 by Peter Østbye. Recent advancements in wax have been the use of surfactants, introduced in 1974 by Hertel Wax, and fluorocarbons, introduced in 1986, to increase water and dirt repellency and increase glide. Many companies, including Swix, Toyo, Holmenkol, Briko, and Maplus are dedicated to ski wax production and have developed a range of products to cover various conditions.


Early skiers used one long pole or spear. The first depiction of a skier with two ski poles dates to 1741.[48] In 1959 Ed Scott introduced the large-diameter, tapered shaft, lightweight aluminum ski pole.[39]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ancient Ice Sports". Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Lund, Morten (Winter 1996). "A Short History of Alpine Skiing". Skiing Heritage 8 (1). Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  3. ^ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary
  4. ^ Aasen, Ivar (1950): Ordbog over det norske Folkesprog. Kristiania: Carl C. Werner.
  5. ^ Burov, Grigori (1985). "Mesolithic wood artefacts from the site of Vis I in the European North-east of the USSR". The Mesolithic in Europe: 392–395. 
  6. ^ Sørenson, Steinar (1993). Ski i Norge. Oslo: Aventura. p. 14. 
  7. ^ http://snl.no/ski/historikk accessed May 25, 2013.
  8. ^ "Bølamannen". Steinkjer Kunnskapsportal. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  9. ^ Olsen, Jan. "Wiping the snow off Greenland's oldest ski". iol. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  10. ^ Capizzi, Padre (1989). Piazza Armerina: The Mosaics and Morgantina. International Specialized Book Service Inc. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Saur, Lasse (1999): Norske ski - til glede og besvær. Research report, Høgskolen i Finnmark.
  12. ^ Birkely, Hartvig (1994): I Norge har lapperne først indført skierne. Idut.
  13. ^ Vaage, Jakob (1955). Milepeler og merkedager gjennom 4000 ar. Ranheim: Norske Skiloperer Ostlandet Nord Oslo. p. 9. 
  14. ^ Magnus, Olaus. "Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus". Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  15. ^ a b c d Bergsland, Einar (1946): På ski. Oslo: Aschehoug.
  16. ^ SKI Magazine’s Encyclopedia of Skiing. New York: Harper & Row. 1979. p. 5. 
  17. ^ de La Tocnaye, Jacques (1801). Promenade d'un Français en Suède et en Norvège. Brunswick: P.F. Fauche et Cie. 
  18. ^ E. John B. Allen (2011). Historical Dictionary of Skiing. Scarecrow Press. p. 35. 
  19. ^ "Longboards at Mammoth". Mic Mac Publishing. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  20. ^ "Australian High Country History". Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  21. ^ "Union Leader - Nansen Ski Jump gets historical marker (seventh paragraph down)". Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  22. ^ "History of the Nansen Ski Club". Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Henri Duhamel". bivouak.net. 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  24. ^ "Chamrousse Ski History". PisteHors.com. 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  25. ^ Bolitho, Andrea (January 2010). "Top Secret Slopes". France Today. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  26. ^ "Skis – Bindings – Telemark Turn – Christiania Turn – Slalom". Sondre Norheim - the Skiing Pioneer of Telemark. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  27. ^ Haarstad, Kjell (1993): Skisportens oppkomst i Norge. Trondheim: Tapir.
  28. ^ "About USSA". Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  29. ^ "Timeline". International Ski Federation. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  30. ^ Masia, Seth. "Skis, Trains and Mountains". Skiing Heritage. Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  31. ^ "The Progression of an Obsession: Ski History 4,000 B.C. - 1930". 
  32. ^ "The Beginnings of Snowboarding". Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  33. ^ Leich, Jeff. "Chronology of Snowmaking". New England Ski Museum. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  34. ^ "Halvor Kleppen – Telemark Skiing, Norway's Gift to the World", Alpenglow Ski History
  35. ^ Olaus Magnus, 1555:1,4
  36. ^ "Västerbotten 1971 nr. 2" magazine in Swedish, includes copious pictures of the ski and the associated equipment. [1]
  37. ^ a b c d Masia, Seth. "Evolution of Ski Shape". Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  38. ^ Masia, Seth. The Splitkein Patent. 
  39. ^ a b c d Fry, John (2006). The story of modern skiing. Hanover: University Press of New England. ISBN 978-1-58465-489-6. 
  40. ^ Bjertaes, Gunnar. "Patent number: 4005875 Ski construction of the torsion box type". US Patent Office. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  41. ^ Skiing the wrong way since '95
  42. ^ Lert, Wolfgang (March 2002). "A Binding Revolution". Skiing Heritage Journal: 25–26. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  43. ^ Lund, Morten (September 2007). "Norway: How It All Started". Skiing Heritage Journal: 8–13. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  44. ^ Fry, John. "When you could be racing while others were lacing". skiinghistory.org. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  45. ^ Kuzmin, Leonid (2006). Investigation of the most essential factors influencing ski glide (Licentiate). Luleå University of Technology. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  46. ^ Oberleutnant Hals. Om Skismøring. Vaage: Skienes Verden. p. 254. 
  47. ^ Masia, Seth (September 2003). "The Wonderful Waxless Ski". Skiing Heritage 15 (3). 
  48. ^ Hergstrom, P (1748). Beschreibung von dem unter schwedischer Krone gehörigen Lappland. Leipzig: von Rother. 

Further reading[edit]