In a world where the next best gadget or invention is announced with a press release before the previous one has even been released, it’s easy to feel like there is always something new and exciting out there to find. With the snow sports industry being so vast and intricate, it can be tough to stay on top of every new product, which is why we’re here.
Through this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history of skiing, from its origins to what it is today. It’s an exciting story, and perhaps you’ll learn something new about skiing and be inspired to take it up. Or maybe even see it in a different light?
WHEN AND HOW WAS SKIING INVENTED?
Skiing is not a modern concept. According to Roland Huntford, the Author of Two Planks and a Passion: A Dramatic History of Skiing, cave drawings in Central Asia suggest that man used skis during the last Ice Age. The only evidence left of skiing that far back is in the form of artwork left behind by our ancient ancestors. The exact origins of skiing and who invented skiing are not clear; however, one thing is: that skiing was designed initially to create movement, to get from A to B for both hunting and transportation. The first community is believed to have skied the Sami, the only indigenous people in Scandinavia throughout the Middle Ages. The Samis are widely credited with being the inventors of the ski.
The ski was crafted by tying together dried animal sinew on a wooden board. It was pretty short (between 1 and 2 meters) and thin, designed specifically for navigating deep snow and harsh conditions.
It wasn’t until much later, in 1647, that we saw competitive skiing emerge. In this competition, participants raced each other on long skis down a hillside – the winner claimed a brandy or silver coins prize!
WHEN WERE SKIS INVENTED?
The first skis dated back to 8000 BC and were found in Northern China. They were made of 2-meter-long pieces of wood and were covered in horsehair (could you imagine skiing on those today!?).
The word ski originates from the Old Norse word skíð, which means “stick of wood.” The Norwegian word for skiing is “skikjøring,” which means “ski driving,” and the Norwegian word for “skis” is ski.
The oldest known example of a ski with a primitive binding was found in Russia and dated to 6000 BC. It was discovered in a peat bog in Tromsø, North Norway, but it wasn’t until around 500 BC that skis started to become popular in Scandinavia.
Skiing was used primarily as a means of transportation – the Sami people used them to travel long distances across the tundra during the winter months. This was particularly important for reindeer herders who relied on skis to travel with their herds.
THE BEGINNING OF ALPINE SKIING
By the 1800s, skiing had become a popular sport and recreational activity in Norway. Norwegians had begun to start skiing the alps on racing trails, and the popularity of skiing grew substantially throughout this period. Design changes were made to ski equipment; in 1868, skier Sondre Norheim invented the Telemark Ski, which featured a side cut that allowed users to carve rather than slide sideways. This changed the face of skiing forever, and in response to the innovations of Norwegian skiers, two different ski techniques were developed and named after Norwegian mountains: Telemark and Christiana.
In 1928, Austrian inventor Rudolph Lettner invented the steel edge ski, which improved skiers’ ability to grip the snow and control their movements. This invention led to the creation of a new style of skiing called the stem turn, which involves making a curved turn by turning one’s hips outward and leaning back. Hannes Schneider developed this unique style of skiing and parallel turns during the same era.
By 1930, his ski academy in St Anton had hosted the first-ever ski film, and he became internationally known as a pioneer in skiing. The lessons were taught through the use of a loudspeaker. This marked the beginning of the first ‘skiing boom’ in Japan.
The first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. At first, the games did not feature downhill skiing. Nordic skiing was the most established event and was a more traditional skiing style than that downhill skiing. Over time, however, there was an increasing interest in and love for downhill skiing. In 1936, the Winter Olympics were hosted in Germany, where downhill skiing was included for the first time.
SKI INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENTS
In 1936, a new invention called the chair lift was implemented for the Winter Games. It was revolutionary for skiing as a recreational activity since it allowed skiers to travel up and down the mountain multiple times per day. The chair lift was installed at Mürren in Switzerland but soon spread to all ski resorts worldwide.
Freestyle skiing received official recognition from the International Ski Federation in 1979 and debuted at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. Michael Edwards, known as Eddie the Eagle, competed and finished last in both 70- and 90-meter jumps but won over the crowd for his moxie. In the mid-1990s, twin-tipped skis were perfected, and snow parks began to be built in ski areas. The first known snow park was built at Bear Valley ski area in California in 1989.
Skiing has evolved from a means of transportation and hunting to a recreational sport, one that is enjoyed by people worldwide. Today, ski resorts offer not only skiing but shops, restaurants, hotels, and other activities. Although skiing has changed over the years, our fascination with the mountains has remained constant.
Through technology, human ingenuity, and some unbelievable athletic prowess, skiing has evolved from a simple plank of wood strapped to the bottom of carved wooden skis.
The past and present are riddled with conflict over the growing sport of skiing, from riots in the streets to deaths in the competition that threatened the very future of the sport itself. But no matter how many failed attempts there have been along the way, people will always want to challenge themselves on snow and skis for as long as the sport exists.