Skiing is a way of travelling over snow, using skis strapped to one’s feet. In modern times it has been mostly an athletic activity. Skis are used in conjunction with boots that connect to the ski with use of a binding. Commonly, ski poles or “stocks” are used to improve balance and timing as well as for propulsion.
Skiing can be grouped into two general categories: Nordic and Alpine. Nordic skiing, the older of the two disciplines, originated in Scandinavia and uses free-heel bindings that attach at the toes of the skier’s boots but not at the heels.
Types of Nordic skiing include cross-country, ski jumping and Telemark. Alpine skiing (more often called “downhill skiing”), originated in the European Alps, and is characterised by fixed-heel bindings that attach at both the toe and the heel of the skier’s boot.
The Early History of Skiing
The earliest people to ski may have been the distant ancestors of the modern day Sami. One of the early names used for the Sami was skridfinner, which some have translated as “skiing Sami”. Pre-historic Nordic people and Sami used skis to assist in hunting, military manoeuvres, and as a practical means of transportation. The oldest and most accurately documented evidence of skiing origins is found in modern day Norway and Sweden.
The earliest primitive carvings circa 5000 B.C. depict a skier with one pole, located in the Nordland region of Norway. The first primitive ski was found in a peat bog in Hoting, Sweden which dates back to 2500 or 4500 B.C.
Joel Berglund reported in 2004 the discovery of a primitive ski, or “85cm long piece of wood”, carbon tested by researchers in 1997 while excavating a Norse settlement near Nanortalik, Greenland. The primitive ski dated back to 1010, and is thought to be Greenland’s oldest ski brought by Norsemen circa 980 A.D.
Other accounts of early Nordic skiing are found with two modern cross-country endurance races in Norway and Sweden. These ski races were inspired by famous historic accounts of early medieval skiing in their respective countries. The oldest account involves the famous story from 1206 A.D. of the Birkebeiners during a civil war in medieval Norway.
Considered the underdog, the Birkebeiners were at war against a rival faction known as the baglers. Following the death of the Birkebeiner chief, the baglers feared a rival in his young son Håkon Håkonsson. To protect him, two of the most skillful Birkebeiner skiers, with toddler in tow, skied through treacherous conditions over the mountains from around Lillehammer to safety in Østerdalen valley. Since 1932, Norway’s annual Birkebeinerrennet runs a 54 km (34 mi) cross-country ski race that pays tribute to this historic account.
Since 1922, Sweden has run their own ski marathon known as the Vasaloppet. With its longest race at 90 km (56 mi) and finishing in Mora, Sweden, it is known as the world’s longest cross-country ski race. This endurance race commemorates the memory of “freedom fighter” Gustav Vasa and subsequently Swedish independence. Pursued by the Danes in 1520 A.D. (under order from King Christian of Denmark who controlled Sweden at the time), Gustav Vasa attempted to raise an army against the Danes but was forced to flee by skis north-west towards Norway. Tracked down by Mora’s two best skiers, Gustav returned with them to Mora and led an uprising that eventually overthrew Danish rule.
Although Sondre Norheim had initially invented secure heeled bindings using water-soaked, flexible birch roots, the next development came in 1894 from Fritz Huitfeldt who invented a binding with a secure toe iron which allowed the heel to move freely. This became the standard industry binding through the 1930s.
Retired Austrian school teacher Mathias Zdarsky, like many others at the time (including famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen who became the first man to “ski” to the South Pole in 1911), was intrigued by world-renowned Norwegian explorer and Telemark skier Fridtjof Nansen, and his “high-risk expedition” accounts, in the 1890 German translation of Nansen’s book On Skis Across Greenland.
Inspired by Nansen’s skiing exploits, Zdarsky took up the sport during his retirement by importing Norwegian skis and teaching himself to ski. Incorporating ski techniques from Norway, he developed a ski technique system, known as the “Lilienfeld Method”, which he outlined in his 1896 book Lillienfeld Skilaufer Technik (originally published as Lilienfelder Ski lauf-Technik).
His key development, which led to enthusiastic embrace of skiing in the Alps, was the “stem” technique, or what is commonly known is skiing as the “snowplow” technique. This new technique enabled beginners to experience the slopes in a “slow, and controlled manner”, beyond the more sophisticated and complicated Norwegian Telemark and Christiania techniques, which limited the slopes to more advanced and skillful skiers. By 1896, he was teaching his new methods to large groups of “stem skiers” in Austria.
In 1908, expanding on the developments of this fellow countryman Zdarsky, a young Austrian ski guide by the name of Johannes Schneider entered the scene. With respect to skiing, Johannes (also known as Hannes) is to Austrians as Sondre Norheim and Fridtjof Nansen is to Norwegians. By the 1920s, he had worked to refine Sondre Norheim’s “Christiania” stem christi turn, along with fellow countryman Mathias Zdarsky’s “stem” or “snowplow” technique. He used these Norwegian and Austrian techniques to develop a logical system of ski instruction, a system which began with the easiest snowplow technique, then progressing through to more difficult ski skills.
This system formed the basis for Schneider’s formalised Arlberg technique, which is named for his home region, and subsequently set a foundation for professional ski instruction. This system also incorporated a set of ethical standards to the profession of teaching. With this, the Arlberg technique spread and helped make skiing a popular recreational activity.
The skiing techniques of 19th century Morgedal known as Telemark skiing or “telemarking” underwent a revival in the 1970s. This revival of telemark skiing has been attributed by author Halvor Kleppen to five American skiers from Colorado: Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borkovec, who were collectively inspired by Norwegian ski phenomenon and Olympic champion Stein Eriksen and his book Come Ski With Me.
Types of Skiing
Many different types of skiing are popular, especially in colder climates, and many types of competitive skiing events are recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Ski Federation (FIS), and other sporting organisations, such as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in America. Skiing is most visible to the public during the Winter Olympic Games where it is a major sport.
In skiing’s traditional core regions in the snowy parts of Scandinavia, as well as in places such as Alaska, both recreational and competitive skiing is as likely to refer to the cross-country variants as to the internationally downhill variants.
Skiing techniques are difficult to master, and accordingly there are ski schools that teach everything from the basics of turning and stopping safely to more advanced carving, racing, mogul or “bump” skiing and newer freestyle techniques. There are two primary types of downhill skiing – “telemark” and “alpine.”
For beginning skiers learning under a trained instructor, skiing speeds are low, the terrain is not steep and is often well-manicured, and the risks are relatively low. For extreme skiers, testing their expert abilities against ever more challenging terrain, the risks may be much higher.
Alpine skiing is also called downhill skiing. Typically, downhill skiing takes place at a ski resort with specified ski pistes or ski runs. Ski resorts that offer downhill skiing exist all over the world in cold climate areas. Non-competitive alpine skiing is recreational skiing. Also in the category of Alpine skiing are the competitions known as Slalom, Giant Slalom (GS), Super-G (Super Giant Slalom) and Downhill.
Alpine Freestyle: This kind of skiing employs the use of aerial acrobatics and balance, balance being necessary for rails. The use of rails is known as grinding or jibbing. Alpine freestyle was pioneered by Stein Eriksen in 1962. It developed in the 1970s into a style called Hot dogging. In this type of skiing, skiers use jumps (also called kickers or launches) or rails to do aerial tricks. These tricks are reinvented and progressed in technique and style every day.