The ancient origins of skiing
Skiing has been around since the dawn of civilization, as evidenced by a 5,000-year-old rock carving depicting men on skis hunting elk in Rødøy, Norway, and the discovery of a ski dating back to 6,000 BC found in Vis, Russia. However, historians wonder where skiing got its start; some claim it was in Altay, China in 8000 BC.
Modern skiing, however, can be traced back to the Scandinavians, who primarily used skis for transportation or other practical purposes, particularly the indigenous Sami people of Norway, Finland and Sweden, writes Raymond Flower in The history of skiing and other winter sports. Norse myths even depicted Ull, a god of winter, on curved-tipped skis and included other legends of heroes and goddesses racing down mountains.
Some of the earliest official competitions began around 1850 in Norway, with the first recorded race in Sweden held outside Stockholm in 1879, Flowers writes. Other researchers say skiing has become a household word with the publication of the popular book offering a gripping account of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s difficult and historic ski trek across Greenland in 1888.
The sport spread to the Swiss Alps, where it was widely practiced by British holidaymakers, before clubs sprang up around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Variations of the sport have developed over the years, such as slalom racing, downhill jumping, and mountaineering. The Brits are widely credited with transforming skiing from its Scandinavian roots into the highly competitive sport it is today. In 1921 they developed regulations that became widely accepted and adjusted slalom racing to include flag gates to test skiers’ cornering skill.
Skiing then exploded in popularity after World War II, when ski resorts evolved to accommodate day skiers as well as those taking longer vacations.