The earliest archaeological examples of skis were found in the area near Lake Sindor in Russia. They are believed to be more than 8,000 years-old. The word ski comes from an old Norse word, which means cleft wood, stick of wood and ski. Photo by mauro paillex

Tales from the Bear

How Snowshoeing and Skiing came about

  • Jan. 13, 2019 8:30 a.m.

By K.A.Pendergast

Snowshoeing and skiing were the inventions to change our world as we knew it. Thousands of years ago when history says the continents had less oceans between them, North America and Russia were joined by the Bering Land bridge called Beringia.

The area is now under water, which changes how differently we as humans, move around our beautiful planet. This land bridge enabled Indigenous European people to move across to our continent.

Around that time, approximately, since there is no exact date, although there are indications that it is close to 8,000 years ago, those same people needed to use something to make their travel easier and for hunting along the journey. The invention of both snowshoes and skis came about.

Those who are now Inuit of Canada mostly took to the snowshoes, and the Indigenous Europeans developed their ski use and techniques. Each of these groups of people would agree with the term that necessity is the mother of invention. Although snowshoeing history is much less documented, they were believed to be invented together.

It seems odd to think that the earliest archaeological examples of skis were found in the area near Lake Sindor in Russia. They are believed to be more than 8,000 years-old, at a year of approximately 6300 B.C. The word ski comes from an old Norse word, which means cleft wood, stick of wood and ski.

The Sami people, a group of Indigenous Europeans, found in Scandanavia and Europe have lineage dating back to the Ural Mountains (which is that area) for thousands of years. They are credited with the invention. It seems hard to imagine since we generally think of it as a sport.

A rock carving depicting a skier was discovered dating back to 4000 B.C. in Norway. There were skis from 3300 B.C. discovered in Finland. Some skis were found with a pole dating to 2700 B.C. in Sweden. This shows all of us, that really, this seems to be the oldest sport known, although they were not really used in that way for many years.

There are spoken sagas of kings from Norway that used skis with their soldiers to lay siege to fortresses. Even a tax man set out on skis to collect for his king. Another saga of Haagon IV states that in 1206 as a baby he was carried upon skis by soldiers through hills and valleys, which inspired the modern-day marathon of Birkebeinerrennet.

There are records of Military ski training exercises with the Norwegian and Swedish infantries dating to 1767.

There are more modern records finding that Norwegian immigrants used skis (“Norwegian snowshoes”) in the U.S. Midwest from about 1836. A Norwegian immigrant called “Snowshoe Thompson” delivered mail by skiing between Nevada and California.

The first actual sport ski jumper was recorded in 1809 and his name as Olaf Rye. He was a Danish-Norwegian army officer. Alpine skiing, including racing and jumping, was now a sport that was soon organized and recognised around the mid 1800s. The popularity of it increased quickly with the formation of the International Ski Federation in 1924 and it was included in the first Winter Olympics that same year.

Today there are billions of skis made each year by the companies that serve this industry that started with such humble beginnings. Children and adults alike enjoy the wonder of a fresh fallen snow on the slopes or trails.

Let us hope that, in spite of a great deal of problems with warming in the world, that this sport, as well as the lesser used snowshoeing, stays around for us to enjoy for many years to come!

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