Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now




History of Skiing: From Simple Transportation to High Speed Racing

Posted on January 22, 2016 by Brooke Chaplan

skiingFor millions of people worldwide, there’s nothing better than barreling down a snow-covered mountain at breakneck speeds on a long pair of high-tech alpine skis. For others, gliding serenely through the snowy countryside on a pair of cross-country skis is pure ecstasy and enjoyment. Whatever skiing does for you, it’s a fact we have strapped skis to our feet and glided over snow for nearly five millennia now.

Archaeological History
The earliest known examples of skis were Russian-made, and archaeologists estimate they date from 5000 BCE. Skiing as an activity, though, may be even older, with 10000-year-old cave paintings in China suggesting people skied even then.

Scandinavian Origins
Skiing as a regular transportation activity traces its origins to Scandinavia, where other cave paintings depict skiers using poles to propel themselves along the snow. Examples of old skis dating back to 4500 BCE, and come from various Norse peoples, including the ancient nomadic Sami. It wouldn’t be until much later, however, that skiing would become more of a recreational activity rather than just for transportation. 

Skiing for Transportation
The word “ski” comes from the Old Norse, and it means stick of wood. Because Scandinavia is often a snow-covered region, it’s only natural that its people would find a way to use wood to their advantage and travel over the snow on it. King Haakon, a Norse ruler, even sent his tax collectors out on skis in 950 CE.

Skiing for Sport
Skiing as a sport is a much more recent activity. The first noted ski-related sporting events were late-1700s as Scandinavian military training exercises. In 1809, Danish-Norwegian army officer Olaf Rye became the first known ski jumper. Alpine skiing, using skis to race down steep hills and mountains, was organized for sport sometime in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Olympic Skiing
Skiing’s popularity increased in 1924 with the formation of the International Ski Federation and the sport’s inclusion in the first Winter Olympics that year. Since those games, some of the most famous athletes in the world have been gold-medal-winning Olympic skiers, with male and female racers adored by legions of fans.

Today, millions of people ski, and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, counting equipment, lessons, and ski resort revenues. Many recreational skiers choose to use a ski rental service like Ski Butlers that provides skis and other necessary equipment and even lessons to get themselves started in the sport. Globally, skiing shows no signs of waning in popularity, either.


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