History of Skiing

The ancient history of skiing

The first sign of skis are on 4,500 to 5,000 year old rock drawings, for example at Rødøy in Norway. These drawings depict a man on skis holding a stick. The remains of skis have also been found in bogs, with the oldest ski found in Hoting, Sweden, which is around 4,500 years old.

The earliest people to ski in Fennoscandia were most propably distant ancestors of modern day Samis. Old historic recordings mention people called Skrithifinns or "skiing wanderer". Other history sources say that skiing in Iran dates back to 2,000 BC, when ancient tribes are said to have produced a ski board made from animal hide.

Skiing in recent times

During the 17th century the baron of Valvasor wrote reports on skiing activities in Slovenia. At the time Skis were used by the military which consequently speeded up their development and spread. The Norwegian military had skiing competitions from the 1670s and the first known civilian ski race took place in 1843 at Tromsø, Norway.

Skis were used in the Sierra Nevada gold fields in 1850 and later to ferry mail from Carson City, Nevada to Placerville, California in 1856, crossing 94 miles in 4 days. Downhill ski races, with speeds of up to 90 mph, were organized between competing mining camps by 1857.

Pioneer Sondre Norheim, from Morgedal in Telemark, known as the father of modern skiing for inventing the equipment and techniques that led to modern skiing as we see it today. Having grown up in the farmlands of Norwegian Telemark, Norheim invented a "birch" binding that enabled skiers to ski without the risk of losing their skis.

Then, in 1870, Norheim introduced a short, curved, flexible ski he crafted in order to allow for easy turning in soft snow. Norheim, at the age of forty-three, went on to become the winner of the first Norwegian downhill skiing competition in Christiania, now known as Oslo. He may not have actually invented anything, since there is little evidence to prove that he did, as most of the inventions attributed to Norheim were known a long time before him. The story about Sondre as the father of modern skiing was largely constructed in Norway from the 1930s, especially in connection with the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo in 1952. However, Sondre Norheim proved an inspiration for generations of skiers.

In 1880, the Englishman, William Cecil Slingsby, helped inspire ski mountaineering after his crossing of the 1,550m-high Keiser Pass, Norway, on skis. Just a few years later, in 1888, the Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen made the first crossing of Greenland, by travelling from East to West on skis. The report on his expedition aroused great interest in skiing in Europe and the United States, as well as creating a Norwegian national hero. From then on skiing was regularly in the news, and was soon adopted as a pastime and a sport by the wealthy classes of Europe, as well as being adopted by the army in several countries.

The advent of ski package holidays

The first packaged ski holidays took place in 1903, to Adelboden, Switzerland, organised commercially by Sir Henry Lunn, under the guise of the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club, booking entire hotels. Winter holidays in Switzerland had already become very popular with the British aristocracy since the first winter tourists to St Moritz in 1864. In the second half of the twentieth century skiing had become a sport for the rich. Skiing became as much a fashion statement as it was a sport.


Snowboarding in its earliest form appeared in the 1920s and, in 1939, Vern Wickland was filmed riding a primitive snowboard down a Chicago hill. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that snowboards were marketed commercially. In 1965, Sherman Poppen was outside his Michigan house one day, sledging with his daughters, when his 11 year old was going down the hill, standing on her old sled. Poppen bound two skis together and used a string tied to the nose of the board so the rider could have control of the board. His wife called it the Snurfer and it went into commercial production later that year. Now skiing was not the only way to get down a mountain!

During the early years of the sport, snowboards and snowboarders were not widely respected by the ski industry who rather looked down their noses at these new upstarts. Snowboarding was seen as a fad that would quickly disappear. Many resorts did not allow snowboards initially. Those who did insisted on the use of leashes and were also known to insist that riders prove their ability before being allowed on the hill! However, the sport prevailed, not least in part to a group of pioneers, such as Poppen, Bob Webber, Jake Burton Carpenter (who went on to found Burton Snowboards), Brandon Bridwell, Tom Sims to name just a few who developed and produced innovative prototypes. Finally, Snowboarding became an Olympic winter sport in 1998.

Types of winter snowsports

Winter snowsports now hugely popular - just look at the diversity: