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Skiing History

Skiing 2011

The earliest people to ski in Fennoscandia may have been the distant ancestors of the modern day Sami One of the early names used for the Sami was skridfinner/scricfinni/scritefinni/σκριϑίψινοι, which some have translated as "skiing Sami". Pre-historic Nordic people and Sami used skis to assist in hunting, military maneuvers, 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 Rødøy 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 Birkenbeiner chief, the baglers feared a rival in his young son Haakon Haakonsson. To protect him, two of the most skillful Birkenbeiner skiers, with toddler in tow, skied through treacherous conditions over the mountains to safety in Lillehammer. 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 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 northwest toward Norway. Tracked down by Mora's two best skiers, Gustav returned with them to Mora and led an uprising that eventually overthrew Danish rule.
Wolf hunting on skis
Skiing is also recorded in Norse mythology, where two deities—the god Ullr and the goddess Skaði—are attested as hunting on skis. One of the world's oldest references to skiing is by Egil Skallagrimsson's "950 AD saga describing King Haakon Adalsteinsfostre the Good's practice of sending his tax collectors out on skis". Another one of the oldest written accounts of skiing is by Swedish writer Olaus Magnus in his writings A Description of the Northern Peoples in 1555. His accounts record early primitive skiers (presumably the Sami people) and their "climbing skins" in Scricfinnia, a country or region at the top of modern day Norway. Sometime around 1800 A.D. Danish traveler Father Knut Leed made reference in Geographie to Norwegian kids "skiing just for the fun of it, being able to pick up a hat dropped on the slope while going at full speed."
The word "ski" itself is one of a handful of words Norway has exported to the international community. It comes from the Old Norse word "skíð" which means split piece of wood or firewood. Previously, English speakers considered skiing to be a type of snowshoeing. In regions where loose snow dominates, the indigenous population developed snowshoes that did not slide across the snow, unlike skis. Today's forms of skiing are the modern extensions of ancient Nordic skiing. Whether it be the Nordic forms of Cross-country skiing (a form of Telemark skiing) and Telemark skiing, Ski mountaineering or Alpine skiing, modern forms of skiing share common threads of origin from the Telemark region in Norway led by Norwegian ski innovator Sondre Norheim.

 Modern history

Norwegian Sondre Norheim is known as the "father of modern skiing" (the originator of skiing as recreation and sport). From the Telemark district of Morgedal, Norway, which is also known as the "cradle of skiing", Norheim created the design templates from which all forms of modern skiing are derived. In 1850, woodcarvers from the Telemark region introduced lighter, thinner, cambered skis. These developments were accompanied by Norheim's creation of stiff bindings by fully securing the heel with a strong yet flexible strap made from birch roots. This new binding system enabled the skier to swing, jump and maneuver turns while skiing down hills. These were known as "Osier" bindings. Morten Lund writes, in his piece outlining the development of Alpine skiing, that "Telemark skiing marked the transition to dynamic control, changing the angle of the ski bottom on the snow and changing the direction of the ski to the line of descent—the basis of technique even today", thus the necessity for Norheim's heel binding invention. And as a result, came the "flowering of the world's first "freestyle" contests—climbing, running, making turns for the heck of it and flying off natural bumps on unprepared snow."
19th century artist depiction of skiers

Alpine ski racing as an organised sport commenced in both America and Australia. The first recreational ski club was formed in 1861 at Kiandra, Australia, where the first documented international downhill carnival was also held.
In 1868, with a couple fellow skiers, Norheim attended the "second annual Centralforeningen (Central Ski Association) open ski competition whose object was to demonstrate skill at descending a particular slope in the city." At the competition, Norheim demonstrated groundbreaking techniques that set the ideal benchmarks for skiing in Norway and the European Continent: the arc-like sweep of the "telemark turn" along with the skidded "stem" stop turn (commonly known as the "parallel" stop turn), which was initially known as the "Christiania" turn (original name for modern day Oslo). The "Christiania" came to be known simply as the "Christi" turn with the formalization of ski rules in 1901. Both turns, which originated in Telemark, mark the distinction between Telemark and Alpine skiing.
Then in 1870, Norheim introduced his adaptive design of the Telemark or "narrow-waisted" ski – "the forerunner of the sidecuts used on skis today." Skis were narrowed, shortened and sides curved inwards. These refinements greatly facilitated easier ski turns and set "the standard for ski design over the next century." By the 1880s, as demand for Norwegian skis increased, changes led to the development of the first laminated skis which began to appear in 1881. These new fangled "hand-crafted" skis were constructed "with an ash sole and pine top" and first exported to Sweden in 1882. Also in 1882, the first hickory skis appeared in Norway providing for a thinner more flexible ski. Ski development was continued by Norwegian H.M. Christiansen who constructed the first two-layer laminated ski in 1893, followed by fellow Norwegian Bjørn Ullevoldsaeter's patented three-layer laminated ski. (Incidentally, this style was also independently developed by George Aaland in Seattle.)
Collectively, these innovative designs and techniques laid the foundation for all forms of modern skiing and further developments, including one established form of skiing called Slalom by Norheim and his contemporaries in the Telemark region. Slalom, or "slalåm" in Norwegian dialect, is a Norwegian word originating from Morgedal, Norway. "Sla" refers to slope, hill, or smooth surface while "låm" means "track down the slope".

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