A Short Skiing History

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This week we’re back on the slopes, and a I’ll have a post recapping our trip when we return.  But until then I’ve put together a short post chronicling the development of recreational skiing.

The earliest historical evidence of skiing are found in ancient petroglyphs (cave engraving).  While skiing was once believed to have begun in Scandinavia; petroglyphs have been found in the Atlay region of China, believed to be from around 600 B.C.E.  With a written allusion to skiing in Western Han Dynasty (whose reign began in 206 B.C.E.) texts.

It is not surprising that skiing may have developed independently in snowy regions around the world; since in all areas what drove the need for skiing was food.  As hunters strapped crude versions of today’s cross-country skis to their feet to stalk animals in winter to feed their communities.

Bridging the gap between skiing as necessity and skiing as sport; was the military.  In the 1700s ski units were developed by the Swedish and Norwegian militaries (often at war with each other).  Overtime, these ski units developed ski competitions amongst their troops, some with cash prizes.

Downhill skiing didn’t really become a viable leisure activity until the mid-19th century for two reasons: time and technology.  As the industrial revolution raised the standard of living and increased the middle class, people started to have more free time.  The growth of large (overcrowded & dirty) cities also spurred people to look to the country for their past times.  With St Anton, Austria becoming a notable hub for ski vacations in the 1920s with its ski schools.

Starting in the 1850s and through the 1920s (and really even today); there were major innovations in the design and materials of skis. The camber shape distributes the skiers weight more evenly on the snow.  While hickory, and later aluminum, made skis stronger, more flexible, and easier to turn.

Downhill skiing made its first appearance in the 4th Winter Olympics held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.  During World War II, there understabably wasn’t much recreational skiing done in Europe.  But, there was a resurgence in military ski units.  Assisting in the destruction of a heavy-water plant in Norway, thus hurting Hitler’s atomic weapons program.

Following World War II, purpose built ski resorts started to spring up in the Alps and the US.  Again coinciding with a growth in the middle class and technology (like ski lifts & snow making) allowing more people to participate in the joys of recreational skiing!

Works Referenced

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/first-skiers/jenkins-text

https://www.skiinghistory.org/history/short-history-skis-0

http://www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays/articles/history-of-skiing

http://www.holmenkollen.com/eng/The-Ski-Museum/Skiing-history

http://www.bbc.com/travel/blog/20101221-travelwise-where-did-skiing-come-from

http://olive-drab.com/od_history_ww2_stories_germanatomicsnorway.php

About Leslie@myfoodhistorytravelblog

Hey! I'm an American living in the UK with a passion for food, history, and travel. You can follow my experiences at myfoodhistorytravelblog.com (not a creative title - but you know what you'll be getting).
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