You may think that skiing is something that was designed and developed fairly recently, say in the last couple of centuries. This may be a misapprehension because skiing has recently appeared on the Winter Olympics agenda, but that is because the Winter Olympics Games only started in 1924. There is evidence to prove that skiing has been around as long as there has been snow and human beings. Some scholars place Skiing as old as five thousand years old, and this is ratified by early rock paintings and actual skis that have been preserved in bogs. But there is another theory that date skiing far earlier than this.
The First Skis
When the Ice Age retreated all those millions of years ago, the people of the Stone Age were hunter gatherers and they used to follow herds of elk and reindeer over the Asian Altai region. The way they chased their food and clothing was by skiing after the herd. The skis were covered in fur that gave grip and worked like today’s modern climbing skins, and the skis also grew popular in the Eurasian arctic areas.
The Early Days
The first mention in the modern era of skis was in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages when farmers used skis to tackle the snowy terrain to move about quickly after their livestock. There is also a Scandinavian painting by Hakon Hakonsson that dates back to 1869 that throws light on the subject. The painting depicts two skiers, Skjervald Skrukka and Torstein Skevla, that are taking their two-year-old baby prince to safety in 1206. The intrepid skiers were traveling from Lillehammer to Osterdalen to take their future king for better protection.
Before the mid-1840’s, most of the skis being used were cambered and made by wood craftsmen around the Telemark area. The skis were almost bow shaped with a camber that arched up towards the center of the ski to distribute the weight more evenly.
Prior to this date, the skis were thicker and made of heavy wood, this way the ski would not bow when gliding across the snow, furthermore it would not sink into the snow because of the large surface area. When a ski bows downward then it almost like the skier is constantly skiing uphill.
The development of the camber was truly revolutionary, it meant that the ski could be thinner and lighter but not sink in the center. This new type of thinner ski could glide more easily over the snow, and it was far more flexible, as it absorbs bumps better and was far easier to turn.
The old plank of wood had seen its day and this new cambered ski was thinner, lighter and could be maneuvered more easily than its cumbersome older brother. At the same time as the camber was being developed, another really important addition to these early skis was also on the drawing board. The side cut addition to the ski was to prove a major step forward in making the skis more agile in turning. We continue on our history of skiing in part two of this article.