While today we think of skiing as a fun-filled holiday with days full of action on the pistes and evenings spent enjoying warm, hearty food in cosy catered chalets, the history of skiing actually goes back to a time when it was simply a convenient way to get around. |
The Origins of Skiing
Although the birth of skiing is usually attributed to the Norwegian army, which has used skis since the mid 17th century, the history of skiing actually stretches much further back. Some scholars believe there is evidence which dates skiing in China to 8,000BC, while in Russia a ski with an elk’s head carved on the tip was discovered and dated to 6,000BC.
Cave drawings in Rødøy in Norway depict men on primitive skis using a pole to propel themselves forward as early as 4,000BC. Given this historic connection it is, perhaps, not surprising that the word ‘ski’ is derived from an Ancient Norse term ‘skíö’, meaning ‘split piece of wood’.
The First Downhill Races
Norway was also the first country known to have held skiing races. The Norwegian army has held regular competitions since the 17th century, and the first civilian race took place in Tromsø, Norway, in 1843.
But skis were also being used outside of Norway at this time by gold miners in Sierra Nevada during the American gold rush and, while their mountain camps couldn’t compete with the luxury of modern catered chalets, skiing was still an important way of connecting people in remote snow-bound locations.
It was around this time that skiing became a social pastime with the miners setting up their own downhill ski races in which they competed with neighbouring camps.
The Birth of Modern Skiing
Not surprisingly, given the country’s skiing history, it was a Norwegian, Sondre Norheim, who, in 1870, is credited with the invention of modern skiing. Although he was really only modifying what already existed, Norheim’s introduction of new bindings that attached the skier to their skis and his fashioning of shorter, more flexible skis, revolutionised the way leisure and competitive skiers could manoeuvre.
By the end of the 19th century, skiing had caught the imagination of wealthy European tourists, largely thanks to spectacular reports at the time of Briton William Cecil Slingsby crossing the Keiser Pass on skis and the Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen crossing Greenland on skis. Skiing had become a highly fashionable pastime in Europe.
Wealthy Europeans would travel to the Alps and stay in lavish hotels and traditional catered chalets not just for the clean air and scenery but to try this new leisure phenomenon. Resorts like St Mortiz even became popular with the British aristocracy.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Over the last century skiing has grown steadily in popularity, with skiers still flocking to the Alps during the winter season to enjoy the warm hospitality of catered chalets and lively après ski, and to feel the sensation and freedom, which humans have enjoyed for thousands of years, of sliding down hill on skis.
Belinda Smythson works for Ski Amis, a specialist ski travel agency and booking service that has been helping avid skiers craft their perfect winter holiday for over a quarter of a century. If you're looking for the best catered chalet accommodation in the Three Valleys, Paradiski, Espace Killy or Chamonix Valley, Ski Amis is the go-to company for winter sports fans searching for the holiday of a lifetime.
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