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History of Skiing

Nicola Werdenigg

Before skis were used for fun and leisure, the ski was used for work and transportation. The oldest known version is a wide, short ski found in Sweden that has been shown to be over 4500 years old, and cave and rock drawings suggest that skis were used even long before then. These first skis may have been used by a hunter or a traveler, as they were commonly used during the long winters in Northern Russia and the Scandinavian countries. Early skis were not made for speed, but to designed to keep a traveler on top of the snow as they went about their business.
The people from the Telemark area of Norway have been largely credited with developing skiing into a sport, somewhere in the early 1700's. They invented the Telemark and the Christiana (now known as the Christie) turns as methods of artfully controlling speeds on downhill descents. They were also quite fond of jumping. Thus, disciplines in both alpine and Nordic skiing owe their existence to these early pioneers.
The distinction that now we make between the different disciplines of skiing was not made centuries ago. All of the early skis had a boot mounted to the ski only at the toe, with the heel free to move up and down, what we now call a Nordic ski.
The first organized events in skiing, jumping and a type of cross-country race, started in the early 1800's, and both used the Nordic system. While the Nordic ski has seen many changes over the years, with several different varieties existing today, these two disciplines of skiing still exist with much of the same spirit as they had over 150 years ago.
Skiing grew more popular in the early 1900's, as Europeans learned about all of the fun their Norwegian neighbors were having. The sport still utilized Nordic equipment during much of this time. This is illustrated with events included in the first Winter Olympic Games. The inaugural 1924 Games in Chamonix, France had only 5 sports, and the skiing events were both Nordic: Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined. This continued until Cross-Country Skiing first made the Olympic agenda as a stand alone event during the 1932 Winter Games in Lake Placid.
As skiing was taken to ever more challenging terrain, however, technique and equipment adapted to the challenge. The Telemark turn was adequate for the flatter, rolling terrain of Norway, but lacked the control necessary for the steeper slopes of the Alps and other European mountains. This lead to the birth of Alpine skiing.
Alpine ski equipment used a boot that was mounted to the ski at both the toe and the heel, and gave more control to the skier, allowing him/her to negotiate steeper slopes and ski at faster speeds. The Alpine skiing disciplines of downhill and slalom came about with this new equipment, and the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch, Germany, saw the first introduction of an alpine ski event: the combined, which added a skier's results in both events.
It was during the 1930's that alpine skiing became a popular European pastime, as ski lifts were invented that eliminated the labor of climbing a mountain before experiencing an exhilarating descent. The ski area industry began in earnest after the Second World War, when Austria and Switzerland developed the first Alpine Ski Resorts.
During the past 60 years different schools of thought have grew up around skiing, with advocates for different techniques and disciplines vying for the recognition as the best form of the sport.
Giant Slalom combined aspects of both previous disciplines, and first made the Olympic Games during the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics.
Super G, A hybrid of Giant Slalom and Downhill, added a fourth alpine ski discipline when it was added to World Cup events in 1983, and the Olympics in 1988.
During this time equipment manufacturers developed faster and safer equipment, and athletes combined this new equipment with better training and technique to continuously improve the sport.
While the debate still goes on about which is the premier skiing discipline, one thing is for sure: the growth in popularity of all forms of skiing, and the fact that they are sports that can be enjoyed for a lifetime, has meant that each skiing discipline has grown. Each has been embraced and championed by its aficionados.

About the Author:

Born in 1958; graduate ski college Stams; degree course in sports science at the University of Innsbruck, qualified Austrian ski instructor and ski guide; national diploma for bioenergetic body work. 1968 Interski Demo-Team Austria; for 6 years member of the Austrian Ski Team competing in the World Cup, 1975 Austrian downhill champion and third in the overall downhill World Cup, 1976 fourth in the Olympic downhill in Innsbruck, ski school director and sports coach with the focus on sports for children and handicapped people, organization of movement and awareness training courses, sports coaching and consulting


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