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A short history of skiing

Written by Fiona

December 16 2020

Skiing is one of the most popular winter activities today and it has developed into both a thrilling competitive sport and a very entertaining hobby. But its history dates back many millennia; historians go as far as ten millennia ago.

Its origins are disputed. Some say that skiing originated from modern-day Russia, others that it came from China, while other believe modern skiing evolved from Scandinavia.

Today, it is one of the most popular winter sports. The most important competitions are watched live on TV or on the Internet by millions of fans. Many of them like to bet on the outcomes of the races, and the winter sports odds are available at the big betting agencies, like Unibet.

A skier from Chinese Altai showing the technique of using a single pole as a rudder. Credit Espen Finstad, Oppland County Council.

So, where did skiing come from?

According to National Geographic, some Chinese academics claim that the earliest skis date back to 8000 B.C., in the Altay region. This area is bordered today by Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, in northeastern China, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

Altay skis are believed to have been much longer than modern ones (seven to eight feet long) and the skiers used a single pole for balance. 

There are some that say skiing came much later in the region, around 3000 B.C., according to some very old wall paintings.

Then, there are the oldest fragments of ski-like objects, dating from as far as 6300 B.C., which have been found about 1,200 km northeast of Moscow, at Lake Sindor. The sites are called “Vis”, and the remains include worked wooden objects, such as wooden skis and sled runners. 

The earliest representation of skiing use in Scandinavia dates back to 3000 B.C. Some rock paintings discovered in Norway confirm that people of those times used to ski. 

Neighbouring Sweden also has a long history of skiing, and some scholars believe that it dates back to 3200 B.C. when skiers used long poles with a scoop carved into one end. They were used to steer downhill.

More evidence comes from the Middle Ages in Scandinavia. By that time, farmers, hunters and warriors skied on a regular basis in Northern Europe.

A young boy skiing in 1954. Credit: Nordland Museum

Later, after the Middle Ages, the Swedish Army began training and competing on skis, as early as the 18th century. In fact, the Great Northern War between Russia, Sweden and Norway has been fought on skis.

The first example of a design resembling the modern ski has been dated in Norway, around 1800, in the Telemark region. By that time, the shape of the skis was wider at the ends and narrow in the middle. This helped to improve control and turning.

That was basically the start of skis in sport. The Norwegian-Danish military officer Olaf Rye is considered to be the first ski jumper, in the early 1800s.

Later, in 1843, the first public skiing competition was held in the Norwegian town of Tromso. That was also the first skiing competition reported in a newspaper.

Later, in 1861, Alpine ski racing as an organised sport began in Norway and in America.

Around the same time, in the 1860s, in Sierra Nevada, United States, the American miners used huge 10ft skis to travel in the mountains. Later, they began using the skis to race each other. Also, in Wisconsin, USA, the first documented use of recreational skis was in 1841. 

At the end of the 19th century, skiing evolved as a much bigger sport and also a leisure activity, in both the United States and Europe. 

In 1924, the first Olympic Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France. That was the moment when skiing was also introduced in the Olympic sports world. 

In the past decades, the materials have improved a lot and so has the speed and the overall experience. Today, there are so many ski-related activities around the world, and a large ski vacation industry has been born.

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