The History of the Ski

The earliest primitive rock carvings depicting skiing, circa 5000 B.C., depict a skier with one pole, and are located in Rødøy in the Nordland region of Norway.

Telemark skiing originated in a part of Norway known as Telemark. In the mid-1800s Sondre Norheim designed wood skis for use recreationally. His skis were attached by birch roots. Norheim showcased this ski at the Central Ski Association’s second annual open ski competition in 1850, and it was an instant success. Norheim is known today as the “father of modern skiing.” We have a replica pair of Norheim’s original Telemark skis on display on the wall of The Ski Renter.

Norheim’s design was modified by Fritz Huitfeldt in 1894. Huitfeldt’s binding released the heel from the ski, creating Telemark skiing.

Sometime later, an Austrian by the name of Mathias Zdarsky, inspired by Telemark skiing, taught himself to ski, and in the process, invented the snowplow technique. Johannes Schneider took it one step further, developing a whole style of ski instruction he called the Arlberg technique, still popular today.

Alpine ski racing as an organized sport was started in both America and Australia. The first recreational ski club was formed in 1861 at Kiandra, Australia, where the first documented international downhill carnival was held.

Skiing in California started with the Gold Rush of 1849. Local miners in Truckee and other mining camps used “longboards” to travel over the snow. When too much snow kept the miners from working, they passed the time by holding downhill ski races with the other camps.

As camp rivalries spread, a racing circuit was established. Each camp had its “aces” who rode 14 foot “longboards” all out for the honor of their camp. The mining camps organized into clubs with rules of conduct for race events. The Alturas Snowshoe Club of La Porte claims to be the oldest competition ski club in the world, since the world’s first downhill races were held on their Lexington Hill in 1866. These early California competitions took place 15 years before the first European tournament. We have a replica pair of 14’ longboards on display on the wall in The Ski Renter.

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, ski contests were first held in 1886. On Feb. 21, 1904, at Ishpenning, Michigan, a small group of skiers organized the National Ski Association. In 1961 it was renamed the United States Ski Association. And in the 1990s it became the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.

By the 1920′s ski clubs were appering throughout the country. Lake Placid was founded in the early 19th century to develop an iron ore mining operation. By 1921, the area could boast a ski jump, speed skating venue and ski association, and in 1929, Dr. Godfrey Dewey was able to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Lake Placid had the best winter sports facilities in the nation. The Lake Placid Club became the headquarters for the IOC for the 1932 and the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Skiing was a new sport and thousands traveled to the snowline on roads not open in winter. Ski clubs hosted huge spectator events, and the ski industry began to evolve from small club-operated hills to developed ski areas with the opening of Sugar Bowl near Donner Summit in California in 1939.

Sondre Norheim’s ski design was the first known cambered ski. This ski arches up in the middle under the binding, which distributes the skier’s weight more evenly across the length of the ski.
In 1950 Howard Head introduced the Head Standard, constructed by sandwiching aluminum alloy around a plywood core. The design included steel edges (invented in 1928 in Austria) and the exterior surfaces were made of phenol formaldehyde resin which could hold wax. We have a pair of these early Head skis on display in The Ski Renter.

In 1962, a fiberglass ski, Kneissl’s White Star, was used by Karl Schranz to win two gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. By the late 1960s fiberglass had mostly replaced aluminum. We have a pair of Kneissl’s White Star skis also on display in our store.

In 1993 Elan introduced the Elan SCX; skis with a much wider tip and tail than waist. When tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curve, making it much easier to carve a turn, dramatically improving performance. We also have a pair of Elan SCXs on display in our store.

Today, the shaped ski is the standard, but the design and construction of skis continues to evolve.