At its earliest development, skiing was not a sport, but a necessary form of transportation.
The earliest archaeological evidence of skiing dates back roughly 8,000 years ago to fragments of skis found in Russia, although wall paintings from roughly 10,000 years ago hint that skis were used in regular hunting routines in northern China.
More concrete evidence for ancient use of skis is prevalent in Scandinavia. Starting roughly 7,000 years ago, there are dozens of examples of skis or carvings of skis found throughout Norway. Norse mythology even has references to gods using skis, and documents reference skis being used for transportation, hunting, tax collection, and even military uses.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that skiing became somewhat of an actual recreational sport.
In 1809, Olaf Rye, an officer in the Norwegian-Danish Military performed the first recorded ski jump, launching himself over 30 feet in the air in front of a crowd of soldiers. Shortly after, the sport of skiing as we know it finally started to take off. In 1843 the first official ski-race ever reported was held in Norway, and by the 1860’s, ski clubs had become popular across Scandinavia. Norwegian immigrants soon brought this tradition to America, starting the first North American ski club in Berlin, New Hampshire in 1872. As a sport, skiing at this time was largely focused on racing or jumping. It wasn’t until 1902 that more formal downhill skiing competitions were organized, with the first slalom event being held in Sonneberg, Germany in 1905. This paved the way for skiing to catapult itself into the international spotlight, with the International Skiing Federation forming in 1924, the same year that the first Winter Olympics were held.
Considering the ancient history of skiing, one naturally wonders, what did skis used to look like? The oldest skis were made out of wood, with leather straps used to hold leather boots to the ski. Instead of using wax, skis were coated with animal fat to reduce friction and allow the skier to glide along the snow. Skis varied widely from region to region, with many pairs of skis being asymmetric, with a longer ski intended for gliding, and shorter ski intended for pushing off. In many ways the movements involved with skiing at this time were more similar to skateboarding than skiing as we know it today.
It wasn’t until the materials revolution of the 20th century that skis started to resemble the modern counterparts we know today. Downhill skiing got a lot easier in 1936, when the first chairlift was built in Sun Valley, Idaho in 1936. Howard Head revolutionized the ski in 1950, by creating lightweight plywood skis coated with an aluminum alloy. Just twelve years later, Kneissl revolutionized the ski once again with the creation of the first fiberglass skis, a revolution that has dominated the ski industry up to this day.
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