Skiing throughout the centuries

Skiing is an activity as old as human history. Throughout the centuries, people used skis for different purposes. With time, it became a favorite pastime and one of the most popular sports. Find out how... Ancient Beginnings

The beginnings of skiing date back to the Stone Age. Cave drawings found in northern Europe depict hunters with boards on their feet that were used to move on snow. The first preserved skis go way back to 2500 BC and were found in the area of today's Sweden. Edde, Iceland's sagas, around 1000 AD mentioned the use of skis for fun and competition. Skis were wide and heavy, and only one pole was used to push oneself off the surface like oars. It took ages before two revolutionary changes were introduced - long and narrow skis and two shorter poles instead of one long pole.

Radical Changes

Sondre Norheim from Norway is considered to be the father of modern skiing. Norheim was born in the Telemark region. He introduced radical changes in 1868 to the way skis were made - he narrowed them and added bindings for heels. This new shape and fastening enabled better control and maneuvering. Skiers from Telemark also introduced many other things into skiing such as turns named Telemark and Christiana after them. Changing the angle of the skis on the snow, and the change of direction that used to be linear, meant the beginning of dynamics and control while skiing. New techniques and equipment are the greatest revolution in the history of skiing.

Skiing as a Massive Sport

The first discipline that developed was Nordic Skiing of which cross-country skiing is very popular nowadays. Since the mid 19th century, competitions have been organized, while speeds achieved on skis over 4 meters long reached an impressive 130 km/h! As a comparison, the fastest speed today is 248,7 km/h in speed skiing.
Skiing as fun and sport spread from Norway throughout the whole world. Hiking on skis in the Alps turned into downhill. This difference is nowadays obvious from the basic division between Nordic and Alpine disciplines. It was much more challenging to move on Alpine slopes. Therefore, new bindings were developed for skis that made slalom and downhill possible, primarily thanks to Matthias Zdarsky from Austria, who is credited with organizing the first slalom competition (1905) near Lilienfeld in Lower Austria. At the same time, ski centers started to develop in the Alps, not only as sports centers but also as elite destinations. At the beginning of the 20th century, skiing was a very popular sport with various disciplines and competitions.

It Used to be Difficult to be a Skier

On the other hand, judging by all the problems skiers had to face, skiing was till the 1940s a sport for enthusiasts. To climb to the top of the slope after your descent was possible every hour or two - that is how often the ski lifts operated.
The second source of problems was the equipment. Wooden skis and bamboo poles were fragile. The rough ski bottoms had to be waxed practically after every descent. Leather ski boots, tied with laces, easily stretched. They were actually ordinary leather boots somewhat modified to suit skis. Numerous ankle injuries due to the soft boots made ski enthusiasts perfect their equipment and develop plastic ski boots that protect the ankle from twisting. Due to bad bindings, skiers used to lose their skis that were then dangerous for other skiers, especially when going at full speed downhill. In such situations, warning cries could be heard.
After successfully binding skis to feet, man had to face another challenge - how to unfasten skis at crucial moments (skis would, once unfastened from the foot, stay tied to them and would cause fractures). Bindings that unfastened automatically were invented in the 1950s. Wooden skis were replaced by aluminum in the 1950s and then by plastic in the 1960s. Nowadays, skis are made from fiberglass.
Maybe due to its long history, skiing is today the most popular winter sport with some 45 million enthusiasts and thousands of ski resorts all over the world. Let's all head for the snow covered slopes! After you've taken in the fresh air and your cheeks have reddened from the cold, find warm refuge in one of our accommodation units. More about skiing throughout history in the ski resorts we offer can be found in museums in our ski destinations and nearby: Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Salzburg skiing museum in Werfenweng (near Radstadt, Filzmoos, Flachau, Wagrain), Felberturmmuseum in Mittersill (near Kaprun, Zell am See). You can visit Matthias Zdarsky museum in Lilienfeld, Babenbergerstrasse 3.
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