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A skier carving into a turn
Categorization Outdoor
Equipment Skis, Ski poles, Ski bindings, Ski boots
Olympic 1948

Skiing is a group of recreational activities using skis as equipment for traveling over snow. Skis are used in conjunction with boots that connect to the ski with use of a binding.

Skiing can be grouped into two general categories. The older of the two disciplines originated in Scandinavia and uses free-heel bindings that attach at the toes of the skier's boots but not at the heels. Types of Nordic skiing include cross-country, ski jumping and Telemark. Alpine skiing (more often called "downhill skiing"), originated in the European Alps, and is characterized by fixed-heel bindings that attach at both the toe and the heel of the skier's boot.


Early history

The Norse goddess Skaði hunts in the mountains on skis in an illustration (1901) by H. L. M.

The earliest people to ski in Fennoscandia may have been the distant ancestors of the modern day Sami. One of the early names used for the Sami was skridfinner/scricfinni/scritefinni/σκριϑίψινοι, which some have translated as "skiing Sami". Pre-historic Nordic people and Sami used skis to assist in hunting, military maneuvers, and as a practical means of transportation. The oldest and most accurately documented evidence of skiing origins is found in modern day Norway and Sweden. The earliest primitive carvings circa 5000 B.C. depict a skier with one pole, located in Rødøy in the Nordland region of Norway. The first primitive ski was found in a peat bog in Hoting, Sweden which dates back to 2500 or 4500 B.C. Joel Berglund reported in 2004 the discovery of a primitive ski, or "85cm long piece of wood", carbon tested by researchers in 1997 while excavating a Norse settlement near Nanortalik, Greenland. The primitive ski dated back to 1010, and is thought to be Greenland's oldest ski brought by Norsemen circa 980 A.D.

Other accounts of early Nordic skiing are found with two modern cross-country endurance races in Norway and Sweden. These ski races were inspired by famous historic accounts of early medieval skiing in their respective countries. The oldest account involves the famous story from 1206 A.D. of the Birkebeiners during a civil war in medieval Norway. Considered the underdog, the Birkebeiners were at war against a rival faction known as the baglers. Following the death of the Birkenbeiner chief, the baglers feared a rival in his young son Haakon Haakonsson. To protect him, two of the most skillful Birkenbeiner skiers, with toddler in tow, skied through treacherous conditions over the mountains to safety in Lillehammer. Since 1932, Norway's annual Birkebeinerrennet runs a 54 km (34 mi) cross-country ski race that pays tribute to this historic account. Since 1922, Sweden has run their own ski marathon known as the Vasaloppet. With its longest race at 90 km (56 mi) and finishing in Mora, Sweden, it is known as the world's longest cross-country ski race. This endurance race commemorates the memory of "freedom fighter" Gustav Vasa and subsequently Swedish independence. Pursued by the Danes in 1520 A.D. (under order from King Christian of Denmark who controlled Sweden at the time), Gustav Vasa attempted to raise an army against the Danes but was forced to flee by skis northwest toward Norway. Tracked down by Mora's two best skiers, Gustav returned with them to Mora and led an uprising that eventually overthrew Danish rule.

Wolf hunting on skis

Skiing is also recorded in Norse mythology, where two deities—the god Ullr and the goddess Skaði—are attested as hunting on skis. One of the world's oldest references to skiing is by Egil Skallagrimsson's "950 AD saga describing King Haakon Adalsteinsfostre the Good's practice of sending his tax collectors out on skis". Another one of the oldest written accounts of skiing is by Swedish writer Olaus Magnus in his writings A Description of the Northern Peoples in 1555. His accounts record early primitive skiers (presumably the Sami people) and their "climbing skins" in Scricfinnia, a country or region at the top of modern day Norway. Sometime around 1800 A.D. Danish traveler Father Knut Leed made reference in Geographie to Norwegian kids "skiing just for the fun of it, being able to pick up a hat dropped on the slope while going at full speed."

The word "ski" itself is one of a handful of words Norway has exported to the international community. It comes from the Old Norse word "skíð" which means split piece of wood or firewood. Previously, English speakers considered skiing to be a type of snowshoeing. In regions where loose snow dominates, the indigenous population developed snowshoes that did not slide across the snow, unlike skis. Today's forms of skiing are the modern extensions of ancient Nordic skiing. Whether it be the Nordic forms of Cross-country skiing (a form of Telemark skiing) and Telemark skiing, Ski mountaineering or Alpine skiing, modern forms of skiing share common threads of origin from the Telemark region in Norway led by Norwegian ski innovator Sondre Norheim.

Modern history

Norwegian Sondre Norheim is known as the "father of modern skiing" (the originator of skiing as recreation and sport). From the Telemark district of Morgedal, Norway, which is also known as the "cradle of skiing", Norheim created the design templates from which all forms of modern skiing are derived. In 1850, woodcarvers from the Telemark region introduced lighter, thinner, cambered skis. These developments were accompanied by Norheim's creation of stiff bindings by fully securing the heel with a strong yet flexible strap made from birch roots. This new binding system enabled the skier to swing, jump and maneuver turns while skiing down hills. These were known as "Osier" bindings. Morten Lund writes, in his piece outlining the development of Alpine skiing, that "Telemark skiing marked the transition to dynamic control, changing the angle of the ski bottom on the snow and changing the direction of the ski to the line of descent—the basis of technique even today", thus the necessity for Norheim's heel binding invention. And as a result, came the "flowering of the world's first "freestyle" contests—climbing, running, making turns for the heck of it and flying off natural bumps on unprepared snow."

19th century artist depiction of skiers

Alpine ski racing as an organised sport commenced 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 also held.

In 1868, with a couple fellow skiers, Norheim attended the "second annual Centralforeningen (Central Ski Association) open ski competition whose object was to demonstrate skill at descending a particular slope in the city." At the competition, Norheim demonstrated groundbreaking techniques that set the ideal benchmarks for skiing in Norway and the European Continent: the arc-like sweep of the "telemark turn" along with the skidded "stem" stop turn (commonly known as the "parallel" stop turn), which was initially known as the "Christiania" turn (original name for modern day Oslo). The "Christiania" came to be known simply as the "Christi" turn with the formalization of ski rules in 1901. Both turns, which originated in Telemark, mark the distinction between Telemark and Alpine skiing.

Then in 1870, Norheim introduced his adaptive design of the Telemark or "narrow-waisted" ski – "the forerunner of the sidecuts used on skis today." Skis were narrowed, shortened and sides curved inwards. These refinements greatly facilitated easier ski turns and set "the standard for ski design over the next century." By the 1880s, as demand for Norwegian skis increased, changes led to the development of the first laminated skis which began to appear in 1881. These new fangled "hand-crafted" skis were constructed "with an ash sole and pine top" and first exported to Sweden in 1882. Also in 1882, the first hickory skis appeared in Norway providing for a thinner more flexible ski. Ski development was continued by Norwegian H.M. Christiansen who constructed the first two-layer laminated ski in 1893, followed by fellow Norwegian Bjørn Ullevoldsaeter's patented three-layer laminated ski. (Incidentally, this style was also independently developed by George Aaland in Seattle.)

Collectively, these innovative designs and techniques laid the foundation for all forms of modern skiing and further developments, including one established form of skiing called Slalom by Norheim and his contemporaries in the Telemark region. Slalom, or "slalåm" in Norwegian dialect, is a Norwegian word originating from Morgedal, Norway. "Sla" refers to slope, hill, or smooth surface while "låm" means "track down the slope".

20th century

Although Sondre Norheim had initially invented secure heeled bindings using water-soaked, flexible birch roots, the next development came in 1894 from Fritz Huitfeldt who invented a binding with a secure toe iron which allowed the heel to move freely. This became the standard industry binding through the 1930s. Retired Austrian school teacher Mathias Zdarsky, like many others at the time (including famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen who became the first man to "ski" to the South Pole in 1911), was intrigued by world-renowned Norwegian explorer and Telemark skier Fridtjof Nansen, and his "high-risk expedition" accounts, in the 1890 German translation of Nansen's book On Skis Across Greenland. Inspired by Nansen's skiing exploits, Zdarsky took up the sport during his retirement by importing Norwegian skis and teaching himself to ski. Incorporating ski techniques from Norway, he developed a ski technique system, known as the "Lilienfeld Method", which he outlined in his 1896 book Lillienfeld Skilaufer Technik (originally published as Lilienfelder Ski lauf-Technik). His key development, which led to enthusiastic embrace of skiing in the Alps, was the "stem" technique, or what is commonly known is skiing as the "snowplow" technique. This new technique enabled beginners to experience the slopes in a "slow, and controlled manner", beyond the more sophisticated and complicated Norwegian Telemark and Christiania techniques, which limited the slopes to more advanced and skillful skiers. By 1896, he was teaching his new methods to large groups of "stem skiers" in Austria.

Theodor von Lerch, an Austrian major, teaching skiing to Japanese army as the first experience to Japan at Jōetsu, Niigata on 12 January 1911.

In 1908, expanding on the developments of this fellow countryman Zdarsky, a young Austrian ski guide by the name of Johannes Schneider entered the scene. With respect to skiing, Johannes (also known as Hannes) is to Austrians as Sondre Norheim and Fridtjof Nansen is to Norwegians. By the 1920s, he had worked to refine Sondre Norheim's "Christiania" stem christi turn, along with fellow countryman Mathias Zdarsky's "stem" or "snowplow" technique. He used these Norwegian and Austrian techniques to develop a logical system of ski instruction, a system which began with the easiest snowplow technique, then progressing through to more difficult ski skills. This system formed the basis for Schneider's formalized Arlberg technique, which is named for his home region, and subsequently set a foundation for professional ski instruction. This system also incorporated a set of ethical standards to the profession of teaching. With this, the Arlberg technique spread and helped make skiing a popular recreational activity.

The skiing techniques of 19th century Morgedal known as Telemark skiing or "telemarking" underwent a revival in the 1970s. This revival of telemark skiing has been attributed by author Halvor Kleppen to five American skiers from Colorado: Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borkovec, who were collectively inspired by Norwegian ski phenomenon and Olympic champion Stein Ericksen and his book Come Ski With Me.

The biomechanical principles of alpine skiing were described in 1985 by Georg Kassat, professor at Münster University.

Types of skiing

Alpine skier running a downhill course

Many different types of skiing are popular, especially in colder climates, and many types of competitive skiing events are recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Ski Federation (FIS), and other sporting organizations, such as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in America. Skiing is most visible to the public during the Winter Olympic Games where it is a major sport.

In skiing's traditional core regions in the snowy parts of Scandinavia, as well as in places such as Alaska, both recreational and competitive skiing is as likely to refer to the cross-country variants as to the internationally downhill variants.

Skiing techniques are difficult to master, and accordingly there are ski schools that teach everything from the basics of turning and stopping safely to more advanced carving, racing, mogul or "bump" skiing and newer freestyle techniques. There are two primary types of downhill skiing – "telemark" and "alpine."

For beginning skiers learning under a trained instructor, skiing speeds are low, the terrain is not steep and is often well-manicured, and the risks are relatively low. For extreme skiers, testing their expert abilities against ever more challenging terrain, the risks may be much higher.

Alpine skiing

Alpine skiing is also called downhill skiing. Typically downhill skiing takes place at a ski resort with specified ski pistes or ski runs. Ski resorts that offer downhill skiing exist all over the world in cold climate areas. Non-competitive alpine skiing is recreational skiing. Also in the category of Alpine skiing are the Alpine competitions known as slalom, giant-slalom, and down-hill. Recently a new category, called super-giant-slalom was added.

Freestyle skiing

Aerial freestyle

Alpine Freestyle: This kind of skiing employs the use of aerial acrobatics and balance, balance being necessary for rails. The use of rails is known as grinding or jibbing. Alpine freestyle was pioneered by Stein Eriksen in 1962. It developed in the 1970s into a style called Hotdogging. In this type of skiing, skiers use jumps (also called kickers or launches) or rails to do aerial tricks. These tricks are reinvented and progressed in technique and style every day.

Freestyle/Newschool: Freestyle skiing is the type of skiing with which tricks are usually associated. The skis used are generally of a twin tip design, made to land switch tricks (backwards) as easily as forwards. Tricks are generally spins and flips, that can be conjoined with a grabbing of the ski to improve the image of the trick. Freestyle skiing generally takes place in terrain parks at ski resorts, with a wide variety of jumps, rails, jibs and other features to session. Mogul skiing is also considered as freestyle skiing.

Freeskiing/Freeride Related to freestyle skiing in nature is freeriding, which involves taking the tricks done in the park to the rest of the mountain and the backcountry. Thus, fatter skis may be used to float on top of the powder. Freeriding often involves steeps, cliffs, powder, glades, and other epic runs. In part due to the growing popularity of freestyle skiing in recent years and the obvious limitations in that aspect of the sport, freeride skiing has also been growing in popularity in recent years as more and more skiers have access to good backcountry gear and skis.

Nordic skiing

A ski jumper using the V-style near Calgary, Canada.
Cross country skiing : Priit Narusk in the qualification for the Tour de Ski in Prague.
Cross country skiing : Skiing tracks in snow in mountains in Sarek, Sweden.

Nordic Skiing: Also called Cross-country skiing or Cross-country racing. Takes its name from a type of ski race that is one third up, one third down, and one third flat. The name distinguishes it from other types of ski races and competition such as downhill racing, slalom racing, and Nordic jumping. Cross-country races can be either freestyle or classic. In freestyle racing, any technique is allowed as long as it is human powered and on skis. In a classic race, skating techniques are prohibited. World wide, Nordic skiing may be the most popular form of skiing since it does not require a specialty ski area. Typically after donning appropriate clothing, the skier goes outside and skis in a local park or even on a snowy street. Nordic skiing is the oldest form of skiing and was developed in Scandinavia as a way of travelling in the winter.

Nordic Jumping: Also called ski-flying and ski jumping. A competition in which skiers slide down a ramp called a jump and attempt to go the furthest before landing on the ground. This is done with Nordic style skis, meaning that the heels of boot and binding are detached from the ski. The skis are much longer and wider than other types of skis and jumping is typically done without ski-poles. Telemark skiing: See also ski touring.

Military skiing

Military Skiing: In addition to its role in recreation and sport, skiing is also used as a means of transport by the military, and many armies train troops for ski warfare. Ski troops played a key role in retaining Finnish independence from Russia during the Winter War, and from Germany during the Lapland War, although the use of ski troops was recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century. The sport of Biathlon was developed from military skiing patrols.

Other types

Champion dry slope racer

Kite skiing is skiing done while being pulled or carried by a parasail, hang glider, or kite.

Paraskiing is accomplished either by jumping from a plane or starting from a high altitude on the ground (i.e. – from a mountaintop). Once the parachute is deployed, it is used heavily for steering. Paraskiing has been a competition sport for years, and can be scored for such things as speed and slalom accuracy. This is very different from kite-skiing, as gravity is the sole means of propulsion, rather than wind, thermals, or motors.

Backcountry skiing: Also see ski touring. Randonnée: See also ski touring, backcountry skiing.

Skijoring, also called Euro-style mushing, is skiing while being pulled by an animal(s), typically dogs or horses, or by snowmachine.

Dry Slope Skiing: This is skiing on artificial or dry snow, or dirt. Dry slope skiing is a year-round sport in countries like the UK where the snow cover is insufficient for traditional skiing. There is a thriving race programme on British slopes.

Adaptive Skiing is skiing done by individuals with physical disabilities. Adaptations to standard ski equipment or accompaniment by a non-disabled guide has enabled individuals with amputations, spinal injuries, TBI, deafness and visual impairments to ski, and in some cases, even race. The venue, speed and technical difficulty associated with the sport can lead to collisions, accidents, hypothermia and other injury or illness, occasionally including death. Regional Ski Patrol organizations, such as the National Ski Patrol in the U.S., exist as a voluntary organization to provide guidance, help, medical assistance and emergency rescue to those in need of it.

Skiing competition

Skiing competition is organized by the International Ski Federation, which is responsible for development of rules and scheduling of competitions worldwide in alpine skiing, cross country skiing, freestyle skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping. Competition is managed in each country by its national association. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is responsible for competitive skiing in America.

Skiing for people with disabilities

A person without the use of his legs learning to ski on a sit-ski, using two outriggers.

Skiing for people with disabilities became popular after World War II with the return of injured veterans. It is both a recreational pastime and a competitive sport open to those with any manner of cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Adaptations include the use of outriggers, ski tip retention devices, sit-skis like monoskis and bi-skis, brightly colored guide bibs, ski guides, and inter-skier communication systems or audible clues for blind skiers. A guide skier can assist the sit-skier from behind, this is known as "bucketing".

Recreational skiing programs for people with disabilities exist at mountains across the globe.

Currently the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Ski Federation (FIS) sanction a number of regional, national, and international disabled skiing events, most notably a World Cup circuit, a Disabled Alpine Skiing World Championships, and the Paralympic Winter Games. One of the strongest disabled programs is the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, organized by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the U.S. Ski Team.

Risks of injury

In alpine skiing, there are around three injuries per thousand skiing days. Knee injuries are most common, but broken bones and death are possible. Ski helmets, once used only by racers, are now in common use by all classes and ages of skier.

Related sports

  • Grass skiing
  • Roller skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowshoe walking
  • Wake boarding
  • Water skiing
  • Winter sport
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