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