Skiing is one of the most popular winter sports in the world. Come winter you will find the mountainous regions around the globe dotted with loads of color! Youngsters and adults dressed in colorful ski clothing, full of enthusiasm, lining up to ride to the top of a mountain. Skiing has certainly taken the world by storm.
The sport of skiing was introduced to North America about a century ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway in an attempt to draw winter business to its remote hotels. Guides and mountaineers from Europe were brought to North America to guide rail passengers on excursions into the mountains. Since then skiing has become the favorite winter pastime of thousands.
Norway is the birthplace of skiing with the earliest origins of the sport being traced back as far as 4000-5000 years. In Sweden and Finland the most primitive ski relics have been excavated from ancient peat bogs. According to some historians the sport of skiing was enjoyed even in the Stone Age although none of these participants considered it a sport using it mainly as a form of travel. Various carvings etched in rock also from those times reveal primitive huntsmen clothed in crude ski cloths chasing games during a hunting expedition. In these times skiing developed more as a utility device for hunting rather than for recreational purpose.
Somewhere around 1046-1066 the Viking ruler King Harald Hadrade of Iceland as mentioned in the Eddas (collection of Icelandic poems) indulged in skiing for gambling and winning prizes. Skiing was considered a leisure activity for betting and racing. Many aristocrats indulged in skiing on a regular basis.
In northern Europe people used skis to traverse from one place to another during the harsh and snowy winter months. It served as a means of transport and communication. In the mid 18th century skiing was practiced by military troops and competitions were held.
A Norwegian potato farmer from Morgedal named Sondre Norheim devised the first substantial skiing equipment that was technically sound. This added a new dimension to the sport. He is often referred to as the ‘Father of modern skiing’ and he was an expert skier himself. Sondre was fearless and daring; he came up with innovative ideas of using skis more efficiently. Initially skis were comprised of stiff, straight-sided planks of wood equipped with unstable toe-strap or heel strap bindings. This resembled more of a ‘stick riding’ kind of thing that was neither quick nor graceful. In 1850 Norheim invented a heel strap made of tough, woven, elastic birch-root tendrils that helped to hold the foot firmly to the ski so that the skier could efficiently maneuver without losing the ski.
This Norwegian skiing pioneer brought skiing and slalom competitions fame and recognition worldwide. No doubt skiing is the national sport of Norway! The first civilian skiing competition was held in 1843 in Tromso, Northern Norway. Norwegian people were considered ski experts and they developed new varieties of skiing equipment, skiing techniques and styles that were crucial in bringing skiing to the world stage
The major turning point in skiing history came in the year 1868 when Sondre and his fellow skiers performed at the first national skiing competition held at Iverslokken, Christiana (now Oslo). Here the great Sondre demonstrated his extraordinary skiing skills introducing the Telemark turn and the Christiana turn, using innovative skis and bindings that were relatively new at that time. Sondre revolutionized skiing from a mere utility into a fun and recreational sport.
Telemark and Alpine skiing are the oldest skiing disciplines, evolving over time with advanced techniques and equipment being developed. The telemark style of skiing and slalom style were introduced in Central Europe in the 1900s. Alpine skiing using the telemark style of turning gained popularity gradually in Europe, USA and other parts of the world.
The ski used by telemark skiers basically comprised of a boot mounted to the ski only at the toe, with the heel free to move up and down. The skis had straight sides to help them glide better. This ski was suitable for the flatter terrain of Norway but proved to be quite unstable and inconvenient for the steeper rugged terrain of the Alps and other European mountains.
The Alpine ski was developed latter which was better suited for alpine skiing and comprised of a boot that was mounted to the ski at both the toe and the heel. This gave more control to the skier, allowing them to manage steeper slopes and ski at greater speeds.
In 1924 the first Winter Olympic Games held in Chamonix, France included only 5 sports, one was skiing. Later in the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, cross-country skiing was introduced. With the advent of Alpine skiing equipments an Alpine skiing event was introduced in the 1936 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. In the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympic games both disciplines of Telemark and Alpine skiing were combined and held in the form of the Giant Slalom contest.
Sondre Norheim’s name remains etched in the golden pages of skiing history forever as the man who made skiing the most popular winter sport. His birthplace of Overbo at Morgedal is visited by skiing devotees from across the world and is a holy shrine where the Olympic torch was lit three times.