As we enter the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere, let’s dive into the history of one of the oldest winter sports there is, skiing. About twenty thousand years ago, skiing was utilized for survival, not the recreational fun we know today. The oldest skis known to date is somewhere around 6000 BC and was discovered by archaeologist Grigoriy Burov in Northern Russia. No one knows the exact year but there is a rock carving resembling skis that was found near the Arctic Circle in Norway, said to be about 4,000 years old. There have also been many ski-like artifacts discovered in parts of Sweden, Norway, and Finland dating back to 1,000-3,500 years ago. Winter can get pretty cold depending on what part of the world you live in. Early skis have been found in parts of Northern Europe and Northern China and some of the first written references to skiing are from the Han dynasty in 206-220 CE. When winter approached in Europe and Asia, the wetlands and marshes would freeze over which made it difficult for humans to travel. The first skis were short and broad which looks more closely related to snowshoes than the skis we see today. Snowshoes made it easy for people to walk on soft snow without sinking and were used by hunters, farmers, and trappers. Skis and snowshoes allowed for easier travel and now humans could hunt animals with more ease during the frozen season. Skiing was also used for military purposes. Norwegian men used skis to make military observations before the Battle of Oslo in 1200. In the 1760s the Norwegian army was using skiing to test the skills of their men by having them ski down slopes and go around trees while shooting. The military began holding ski competitions and would give monetary prizes. This is said to be the precursor of biathlons, which is a combination of skiing and target shooting. Ski troops were also used in World War I and World War II and later, we would see skiing in the Olympics. It took about 100 more years before there was a major shift in skiing. Fast forward to the 1880s and we saw people going from the traditional Nordic skiing, which was cross country skiing, to Alpine skiing which is downhill skiing. People seemed to enjoy Alpine skiing more because of the adrenaline rush it gave when you were going down a mountainside. By 1924 the first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix, France and they held Nordic skiing as an event. By 1936 Alpine skiing was included and by the 1950s skiing was beginning to gain popularity. The International Skiing History Association says that skiing became much more accessible to people during the 50s and 60s, particularly due to the metal ski that was invented in the early 1950s. This made skiing much easier for recreational purposes and by the 1960s the plastic boot was invented, leaving behind the troubles of the leather boot. Prior to the mid-19th century, the bindings on skis were only at the toe, leaving the heels loose. Thanks to clever innovation, today we can enjoy the thrill of modern downhill skiing. The last key to success for modern skiing is the invention of rope tows, which led to the chairlifts and gondola lifts we use today. It was very difficult for Alpine skiers to make multiple runs because they had to hike up the slope before being able to ski down. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the first inventions of ski lifts were being installed and this progressed Alpine skiing to become a common activity in Europe and North America, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and Japan.
Another popular winter sport we love today is snowboarding, but what you might not know is that snowboarding used to be called snurfing. Yeah, snurfing, which is short for snow surfing. On Christmas day in 1965, a man in Michigan by the name of Sherman “Sherm” Poppen invented the first snurfer. Thanks to Sherm’s two daughters, he took a pair of children’s snow skis and tied them together to make one wide board. It was really Sherm’s wife, Nancy Poppen who called the new invention a “snurfer”. By next Christmas, Snurfers were flying off the shelves.
Snurfers had a lanyard attached to the front end and they didn’t have any bindings, so they weren’t allowed to go on the chair lifts at the ski resorts. It wasn’t until the 1970s that innovators began experimenting with bindings, and the first competitive World Snurfing Championship was held in 1979 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Snurfing had a good run, and by 1985 it began to exit the market, with snowboarding catching on internationally. Snowboarding became an official Olympic sport in 1998. Thanks to our ancient ancestors, we now have some pretty fun winter sports.
An interesting fact, many many years ago, in the R and D department of the T-Rax factory where we make custom board racks, develop and test new racks. We built some of the first prototype strap free step in bindings for snowboards.