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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.
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.
The word ski comes from the Old Norse word "skíð" which means stick of wood or ski. 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".
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".
The Kalvträskskidan ski, found in Sweden dates to 3300 BCE, and the Vefsn Nordland ski, found in Norway is dated to 3200 BC. Rock drawings in Norway dated at 4000 BC 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.
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. This is feasible, as Mount Etna on Sicily is snow- covered during the winter and early spring months.
In 2014 a ski complete with leather bindings emerged from a glacier in Reinheimen mountains, Norway. The binding is at a small elevated area in the middle of the 172 cm long and 14,5 cm wide ski. According to the report the ski is some 1300 years old. A large number of organic artifacts have been well preserved for several thousand years by the stable glaciers of Oppland county and emerge when glaciers recede.
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". Birkely argues that the Sami people have practiced skiing for more than 6000 years, evidenced by the very old Sami word čuoigat for skiing. Egil Skallagrimsson's 950 CE saga describes King Haakon the Good's practice of sending his tax collectors out on skis. The Gulating law (1274) stated that "No moose shall be disturbed by skiers on private land."
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. 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. Skis were used in military exercises in 1747. In 1799 French traveller Jacques de la Tocnaye visits Norway and writes in his travel diary:
|“||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. 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. 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.
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.
Asymetrical skis were used at least in northern Finland and Sweden up until the late 1800. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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,) 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. 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. By the late '60s fibreglass had mostly replaced aluminum.
In 1975 the torsion box ski construction design is patented. The patent is referenced by Kästle, Salomon, Rottefella, and Madshus. In 1993 Elan introduced the Elan SCX. These introduced a new ski geometry, common today, with a much wider tip and tail than waist. When tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curved shape and carve a turn. 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." The Twin-tip ski was introduced by Line in 1995.
In the early days of skiing the binding was also similar to those of a contemporary snowshoe, generally consisting of a leather strap fastened over the toe of the boot. In the 1800s, skiing evolved into a sport and the toe strap was replaced by a metal clip under the toe. This provided much greater grip on the boot, allowing the ski to be pushed sideways. The heel strap also changed over time; in order to allow a greater range of motion, a spring was added to allow the strap to lengthen when the boot was rotated up off the ski.
This buckled strap was later replaced by a metal cable. The cable binding remained in use, and even increased in popularity, throughout this period as cross-country skiing developed into a major sport of its own. Change eventually came though the evolution of the Rottefella binding, first introduced in 1927. The original Rottefella eliminated the heel strap, which held the boot forward in the binding, by drilling small holes in the sole of the boot which fit into pins in the toe piece. This was standardized as the 3-pin system, which was widespread by the 1970s. It has now generally been replaced by the NNN system.
The introduction of ski lifts in 1908 led to an evolution of skiing as a sport. In the past, skiers would have to ski or walk up the hills they intended to ski down. With the lift, the skiers could leave their skis on, and would be skiing downhill all the time. The need to unclip the heel for cross-country use was eliminated, at least at resorts with lifts. As lifts became more common, especially with the introduction of the chairlift in 1936, the ski world split into cross-country and downhill, a split that remains to this day.
In 1937 Hjalmar Hvam broke his leg skiing, and while recuperating from surgery, invented the Saf-Ski toe binding.
Ski boots were leather winter boots, held to the ski with leather straps. As skiing became more specialized, so too did ski boots, leading to the splitting of designs between those for alpine skiing and cross-country skiing.
Modern skiing developed as an all-round sport with uphill, downhill and cross-country portions. The introduction of the cable binding started a parallel evolution of binding and boot. Boots with the sole extended rearward to produce a flange for the cable to firmly latch to became common, as did designs with semi-circular indentations on the heel for the same purpose.
With the introduction of ski lifts, the need for skiing to get to the top of the hill was eliminated, and a much stiffer design was preferred, providing better control over the ski when sliding downhill.
Johannes Scheffer in Argentoratensis Lapponiæ (History of Lapland) in 1673 probably gave the first recorded instruction for ski wax application He advised skiers to use pine tar pitch and rosin. Ski waxing was also documented in 1761.
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. In 1970 waxless Nordic skis were made with fishscale bases. 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. In 1959 Ed Scott introduced the large-diameter, tapered shaft, lightweight aluminum ski pole.
A skiing Sami woman or a goddess. Olaus Magnus (1555)|
Advertisement for ski race in La Porte, California (1869)
Wolf hunting on skis