History of skiing

From Academic Kids

Skiing, or traveling over snow on wooden runners, has a recorded history of almost five millennia.


Ancient history

The first hints to the existence of skis are on 4500 to 5000 year old rock drawings, e.g. at R°d°y in Norway. There are also remains of skis in bogs, with the oldest ski found in Hoting, Sweden, which is about 4500 years old.

The word ski goes back to two Old Norse roots, both older than 4500 years: saa and suk. In modern Norwegian this word is pronounced "shee". This word is now used in most languages in the world. In languages like English and French, one uses the original spelling "ski", and modify the pronounciation. In languages like Italian, one pronounces it exactly the same as in Norwegian, and modify the spelling; "sci". German and Spanish adapt the word to their linguistic rules; notably "Schier" and "esquÝs". Interestingly, many languages make a verb out of it, like in English "to ski", Italian "sciare" and Spanish "esquiar", which is not possible in Norwegian. In Swedish, a close relation to Norwegian, the word is "skidor" (pl.).

Other history sources have it that skiing in Iran dates back to 2000BC, when ancient tribes are believed to have devised a ski board made from animal hide. Linguists associate the word ski with the Aryan language, from which Farsi is derived.[1] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,12858,1456663,00.html)


There are six possible roots from which skis originally might have developed:

  • The pedal snowshoe, which was an oval wooden board later on covered with fur.
  • The sledge runner, which seems to be a very obvious model for the ski, though it is hardly taken into account.
  • The fur shoe, which was a combination of moccasins and sandals and worn together with pedal snowshoes.
  • The marsh shoe, which later on was taken to colder regions with snow.
  • The canoe or the coracle, both being utilized in northern regions from very early on. Having been used as sledges, small ones might equally have served as proto-skis.
  • The ski being a spontaneous invention is very unlikely.

The fur that covered the skis made it possible to walk on them nearly noiselessly, prevented them from gliding, avoided snow to stick to them and also strengthened the often thin skis.

Early Skis

Different types of skis have emerged at various regions at about the same time, but the original inventors of skis seem to be the people of the Sajan-Altaic mountains in Asia. This is not verified. All in all there are three different types of skis in the North of Europe and Asia:

  • The East-Siberian type is a thin board with a vertical four-hole binding. Sometimes it is covered with fur.
  • The West-Siberian type has a horizontal stem-hole binding. One can distinguish between the Ugro-Lapp type and the Central-Northern type.
  • The Southern type has a horizontal toe-piece binding. One can distinguish the Fennoscandian type and the Russo-Baltic type.

Modern ski bindings are based on the Fennoscandian model of the 19th century. The bindings of Telemark ski and cross-country skis were developed from the Ugro-Lapp type.

Ski Poles

Ski poles go back to two roots:

  • The walking stick was used to keep balance.
  • The ski pole developed from a spear or a bow to which a basket was added at one end. Double poles were used to reach a higher speed on skis.

Modern history of skiing

Pioneer Sondre Norheim, from Morgedal in Telemark, has often been given the honour as the true father of skiing, inventing the equipment and techniques that led to modern skiing as we see it today. Actually, there are no proofs that he himself invented anything. But he must have been a wonderful skier, and an inspiration for generations. The myth about Sondre as the father of modern skiing was largely constructed in Norway from the 1930s, and especially in connection with the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo in 1952. Most of the inventions attributed to Norheim were in fact known a long time before him.

  • In the 17th century the baron of Valvasor wrote reports on skiing activities in Slovenia.
  • The usefulness of skis for military purpose speeded up their development and spread. The Norwegian military had skiing competitions from the 1670s.
  • The first known civilian ski race took place in Troms°, Norway in 1843.
  • In 1875, the first ski club, and two years later the first ski school were founded in Kristiania (now Oslo).
  • Also in the year 1888, the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen made the first crossing of Greenland, travelling from East to West on skis. The report on his expedition, Paa ski over Gr°nland, was published in 1890 in both Norwegian and English, and later in German. It aroused great interest in skiing in Europe and the United States, as well as creating a Norwegian national hero. From then on skiing was regularly in the news, and was soon adopted as a passtime and a sport by the wealthier classes of Europe, as well as being adopted by the military in several countries.
  • The first ski club in central Europe was founded at Munich, Germany, during the winter of 1890 to 1891.
  • The German Wilhelm von Arlt made the first ski ascent of a over 3,000m, when he climbed the Rauris Sonnblick (3,103m / 10,180 feet high) in 1894.
  • The first packaged ski holidays took place in 1903, to Adelboden, Switzerland, organised on a commercial basis by Sir Henry Lunn under the guise of the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club, which booked entire hotels. Winter holidays in Switzerland had become very popular with the British aristocracy since the first winter tourists to St Moritz in 1864.
  • The first(?) downhill race took place in 1921, organised by Sir Arnold Lunn for the British National Ski Championships, followed by the first modern slalom in 1922, also by Lunn.
  • The Rottefella (rat trap) lightweight toe binding was invented by Bror With of Norway. The binding was a great success at the St. Moritz olympics the following year, and has been, in various forms, the preferred cross country ski binding ever since.
  • First rope-tow in America was invented in 1932, by Alex Foster and operated at Shawbridge, Quebec, using an old automobile with the rope looped around a wheel rim. Similar device copied and used in the U.S. in 1934, in Woodstock, Vermont.
  • First aluminum skis 1934, France.
  • First heel-grip cable binding implemented in 1935 by Kandahar.
  • Third Winter Games of Olympics, at Garmisch 1936, include world's first alpine events: downhill and combined slalom.
  • All-plastic boots introduced by Lange in 1964.
  • The NNN (New Nordic Norm) toe binding was introduced by Rottefella in 1985. It was an improvement on earlier toe bindings in that the ski boot soles and bindings were carefully adapted to each other

In Austria centers of skiing activities were MŘrzzuschlag and Semmering.

In the 19th century the Telemark ski revolutionized alpine skiing, being the first ski with a remarkable waist making it much easier for skiers to turn.

Ski jumping

The first skiing events where ski jumping was included were held in Tromso, Norway in 1843. The first pure ski jumping event was held in Trysil on January 22 1862. Later, the yearly Husebybakken events in Oslo from 1879 were moved to Holmenkollen from 1892, and Holmenkollen was to become the Mecca of ski jumping.

Austrian Ski pioneers

  • Matthias Zdarsky, the so-called "Father of Alpine Skiing", started skiing in 1890. He altered his Norwegian skis by shortening them and later on he invented the first alpine binding for his skis, which he called Lilienfelder binding.
In 1896 he published his first book on skiing technique. Zdarsky stemmed the downhill ski out, leaned inside to the pole, unweighted the inner ski and brought it parallel, he used rotation technique. He taught skiing and invented ski acrobatics.
The first slalom race was directed by Zdarsky and took place at Muckenkogel, Lilienfeld, in 1905.

External references

Skiing History Dates (http://www.skiinghistory.org/historicdates.html) International Skiing History Association


  • New England Ski Museum in Franconia New Hampshire [www.skimuseum.org]
  • Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo external link (http://www.skiforeningen.no/hk/tourist/skimus.htm)
  • Norsk skieventyr, in Morgedal, Norway
  • Colorado Ski Museum in Vail, Colorado
  • U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan external link (http://www.skihall.com)

See also



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