A Short History of Skiing by Donald Ray Bernard

Skiers trace the origins of their sport back thousands of years to its beginning in Northern Europe and Asia. References to skiing appear in Norse myths that portray certain deities hunting on skis. The word “ski” itself may have evolved from an Old Norse word that meant “split piece of wood” or “firewood,” or from the Finnish word “suksi.” The first skiers are believed to have carved their equipment from large animal bones and used leather toe straps to attach their boots to the skis. Wooden skis, however, have been found in Russia dating from 6300 BC, and similar findings have been made in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. It is thought that early skiers used their equipment primarily for hunting and traveling across flat ground, since the loose nature of the leather bindings would have made downhill runs impossible.

Since that time, skis have seen military use, such as when scouts from Norway used skis to spy during the Battle of Oslo in AD 1200. In 1747, Norway formed a military ski company that eventually developed ski bindings that attached at the toe as well as the heel, enabling skiers to make secure downhill runs. At that time, the fit of the bindings still largely restricted turning and braking actions.

More modern forms of skiing were made possible in 1850 when Sondre Norheim introduced improved bindings made from wet, twisted birch roots. The roots hardened and formed bindings that provided greater control for skiers than leather straps had, allowing more complex maneuvers. Near that time, woodcarvers began creating lighter, thinner skis. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, skiing enthusiasts pioneered new speed control, stopping, and turning techniques. These innovations paved the way for freestyle stunt-skiing contests.

The first recreational ski club opened in Kiandra, Australia in 1861. By the 1930s, alpine skiing as both a leisure activity and competitive sport was gaining popularity in Europe. Equipment manufacturers continued providing safer and more performance-enhancing skiing gear throughout the decades, while dedicated athletes brought increasingly better training and new techniques to the sport. Currently, skiing is the most popular winter sport in the world.

About Donald Ray Bernard: In addition to his military and legal career, Mr. Bernard’s written works include the text Origin of the Special Verdict As Now Practiced in Texas, published in 1964. He also co-authored the novel Bullion, published in 1982. Donald Ray Bernard is an enthusiastic skier who prefers downhill and Nordic disciplines.