Skiing: From the Stone Age to Torino

Richard Lovett
for National Geographic News
January 31, 2006

Nobody knows who first thought of using wooden boards to glide over snow rather than floundering through it. But the idea predates the flashy colors and high-tech equipment of the Winter Olympics by thousands of years.

This year's Olympics are in Torino (Turin), Italy, and it was Italians who first brought word of skiing to the centers of Western civilization.

When the Roman Empire expanded into northern Europe nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans were intrigued to encounter a winter-mobile people sometimes called skridfinar—or "sliding Finns"—what we today would call skiers.

But skiing far predates the Romans.

North of the Arctic Circle, in Rødøy, Norway, a 4,000-year-old rock carving depicts a skiing hunter. A similar find allegedly 10,000 years old or more was recently announced in a remote northwestern province of China.

"All around the Arctic rim you can find such drawings," said Morten Lund, founding editor of the quarterly journal Skiing Heritage.

Over the Mountain

Skiing also has a long military history.

One of the most famous early endeavors was in 1206, when two Norse ski soldiers, called birkebeiners, carried the two-year-old son of their king up and over a mountain, safely away from the king's enemies.

Today thousands of skiers commemorate the event in Birkebeiner ski marathons in Norway and the U.S., although the carrying of babies is frowned upon.

A ski marathon in which people do carry parcels is Oregon's John Craig Memorial Mail Carry.

In 1877, Craig received a contract to carry mail across the Cascade Range, east of modern Eugene. He may have used snowshoes, but at the time there was no real distinction between skiing and snowshoeing.

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