10 Things You Never Knew About The History of Skiing

1. World's First Chairlift

"A Modern Chairlift in Action" Photo source The chairlift was developed by James Curran of Union Pacific's engineering department in Omaha during the summer of 1936. Prior to working for "Union Pacific", Curran worked for "Paxton and Vierling Steel", which engineered banana conveyor systems to load cargo ships in the tropics. Curran re-engineered the banana hooks with chairs and created a machine with greater capacity than the up-ski toboggan (cable car) and better comfort than the J-bar, which were the two most common forms of skier transportation at the time. Once the chair design was established, the next step was to determine the speed the chairs would travel. A lift chair was attached to the side of a truck for the test. Because it was summer in relatively flat Omaha, engineers wore roller skates to simulate skis running over snow. It was determined that 4 to 5 miles per hour would be a comfortable speed to pick up and drop off a skier. His basic design is still used for chairlifts today. The ski lift was donated to U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame is located in Ishpeming, MI. when it was retired from operation. Source 1 Source 2

2. The God and Goddess of Skiing

"The Goddess Skade, by H. L. M" Photo source Norse legends tell of Ullr (or Ull or Ollerus) and Skade (or Skada or Skadi), the god and goddess of skiing. Ullr represented the northern winter, which he spent hunting with the goddess Skade. He was also the god of death, combat, skiing, hunting and trapping, archery, and snowshoes. Ullr was famous for his marksmanship, and was always associated with a longbow made out of Yew. He also had a mighty shield that he could transform at will into a vessel to cross the seas, and rune engraved bones that he could use to cross waters (possibly an early form of ice skate). The goddess Skade was a huntress who often did her hunting while on skis. She was also a dark magician who ruled over mountains and wilderness, and was the goddess of winter, revenge, knowledge, damage, justice, and independence. It is said that she gifted hunters with the bow and gave them the skill to use it. Scandinavia is named after the goddess Skade, and she is said to dwell in the high snow-covered mountains there. Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

3. The Most Ancient Ski Race Run Today

"The Birkenbeiner Warriors with Prince Håkon Håkonsson" Photo source The Birkebeinerrennet (The Birkebeiner race) is a long-distance, cross-country ski marathon held annually in Norway, which starts in Rena and ends in Lillehammer and covers a distance of 54km. It has been held since 1932, and commemorates a famous event that took place during the Norwegian civil war. In 1206 A.D. the Birkebeiners were at war against a rival faction known as the Baglers. When the Birkenbeiner chief died, he left his baby son, Håkon Håkonsson, as heir to the Norwegian throne. In order to protect him, two of the most skillful Birkenbeiner skiers, with baby in tow, skied through treacherous conditions over the mountains to safety in Lillehammer. All participants in the Birkebeinerrennet carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kg, symbolizing the weight of the one-year old king. It is Norway's race in the Worldloppet Ski Federation, and is included as the last event in the FIS world-cup. The participants in the world-cup class were, however, not required to carry the backpack. The number of participants is limited to 16,000 and is usually fully subscribed. The race has become such a popular skiing event that the 2010 Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet was sold out in only 18 minutes after the online registration started. The dramatic flight of the Birkebeiner warriors is also commemorated every year in the United States, Japan and Canada. A rather unusual version of the Birkebeiner race takes place at the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, in Canada. Junior members of the cross-country ski programme, known as the Jackrabbits, first watch their ski coaches enact a dramatic reading of "The Race of the Birkebeiners", and when the story is done, the children strap their own infant princes to their backs and head up to the skills area for a slightly tamer version of the race. "Jackrabbits with their Prince Håkon Dolls" Photo source Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

4. The Nevada Gold Fields

"John "Snowshoe" Thompson" Photo source Gold seekers brought skis to the Sierra Nevada Mountain gold fields in California in 1850, though they were often referred to as "Norwegian Snowshoes" rather than as skis. They were later used to ferry mail from Carson City, Nevada, to Placerville, California, crossing 94 miles (151 km). The most famous of these skiers was the Norwegian John "Snowshoe" Thompson who actually used large oak-wood skies that were 3 metres (ten feet) long and 10 cm (4 inches) wide at the front, and weighed 11.3 kg (25 lb). He carried a single pole, which he generally held in both hands at once, or placed between his legs as a brake. In 1856, he read about the mail delivery struggle over the Sierra Nevada mountains, and started his twenty-year career delivering the mail. He became a necessity and a fixed institution in the mountains, providing the only land communication between the Atlantic states and California. The mail packs he carried were 60 to 80 pounds, sometimes over 100 pounds. It took 3 days uphill to Carson Valley, and 2 days to return to Placervillle, 45 miles a day through complete wilderness. He carried little food, used snow for water, and carried no blanket, due to his mail load. When he had to sleep, he collected spruce and fir boughs to sleep on, rested his head on his mail pouch, and put his feet at the camp fire. "Snowshoe" Thompson died at 49 years old on May 15, 1876, and was buried at Genoa. His only son Arthur, who died June 22, 1878 at 11 years 4 months old, was buried by his side. Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" Photo source Few people associate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with skiing, but the creator of Sherlock Holmes became a keen skier after he was introduced to the sport during his stay in Switzerland in 1893. He had seen skiing a few years earlier in Norway, and noted that the topography and climate of Switzerland was perfect for the sport. Full of enthusiasm, he sent away to Norway for some skis. Conan Doyle took lessons from local skiers Tobias and Johannes Branger, and once he had mastered the basics he and the Branger brothers decided that they wanted to put skiing to the test. First they scaled the Jacobshorn, a 7,700-foot mountain. Next the three men took a trip to Arosa, a nearby town that in the winter could only be reached by a long railroad trip. It involved crossing a pass of almost nine thousand feet in elevation and traversing some dangerous terrain. On 23 March 1894, Conan Doyle became the first Englishman to cross the 2,440m Maienfelder Furka pass above Davos and ski down to Arosa on the other side. This was indeed an historical event, as it was the first ski tour in the Alps. Conan Doyle predicted, "the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season." Due in part to his popularization of the sport, he was right. Source 1 Source 2

6. First Olympic Winter Games

"The Olympic Rings at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, 2010" Photo source The first Olympic Winter Games were held in 1924, at the foot of Mont Blanc, in Chamonix, France. It was a rather modest event compared with the modern Winter Olympics, with 258 athletes, including 13 women, representing 16 countries. The Games consisted of 14 events in five sports, with several skiing events: cross-country (nordic) ski races (at 18 and 50 km for men), ski-jumping and the nordic combined (nordic ski racing and jumping). The Chamonix Games were originally known as the "International Winter Sports Week," due to objections by Scandinavian countries that felt a Winter Olympics would detract from their Nordic Games. It was not until 1926, during the 25th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lisbon, Portugal that the Chamonix Sports Week was retroactively given the name of Olympic Winter Games. Norwegian athletes obtained medals in 12 of the 14 events, the most achieved by any nation. Over the years, more skiing events were added. Alpine skiing was introduced in 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) Olympic Winter Games, and biathlon (cross-country skiing and marksmanship in a single race) began in 1960 at the Squall Valley, California Games. Freestyle skiing events began in 1992 at Albertville, France. The most recent Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver listed 44 events in various forms of skiing for both men and women, plus six snowboarding events. In 1974 the final medal of Chamonix 1924 was presented. Anders Haugen (USA), had been recorded as finishing fourth in the ski jumping event, but later, an error had been discovered in the score of Thorleif Haug. Haugen won his case and obtained his medal aged 83! photo : http://www.flickr.com/photos/arianec/5037041635 Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

7. The First Evidence of Skiing

"The Rødøy Rock Carving of a Man on Skis" Photo source Archeologists believe that a form of snowshoe or ski was in use at least 6,000 years ago in Mongolia, while some suggest they may be as old as 13,000 years and could have been used by the peoples crossing the land bridge from Asia to North America. However, the oldest and most accurately documented evidence of skiing origins is found in modern day Norway and Sweden. Until about 100 years ago, much of community life was dependent on skis during the winter months. They were used for transport and hunting because skis were practical in sparsely populated countries where distances were great and the terrain difficult. It was in Rødøy, in the Nordland region of Norway, that the first archeological evidence of skiing can be found in ancient rock drawings. These carvings depict a man on skies holding a stick, and date from 5000 B.C. The oldest surviving ski was discovered in a peat bog located near Hoting in the province of Angermanland, Sweden. It has been dated using pollen analysis, and is approximately 4,500 years old. Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

8. Ski Warfare

"Finnish Ski Troops during the Second World War" Photo source Ski troops played a key role in the successes of the Finnish war effort against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. The USSR had invaded its small north-western neighbour Finland, but the forested, rural terrain provided logistical problems for the highly mechanized Soviet troops. Most notably, in the Battle of Suomussalmi, two Soviet mechanized divisions (45000 men) were annihilated by three Finnish regiments (11000 men). The Finnish ski troops were on long narrow wooden skis (precursors to modern cross-country skis) and used unorthodox tactics to break Soviet units. They targeted field kitchens as their number one target. Without supplies and hot food, many of the Ukrainians died of starvation and hypothermia. Most were too weakened to put up major resistance as the days went by. Sniper teams also massacred Soviet Officers and Noncoms early in the battle, leaving many Soviet units without leadership. Astonishingly, Finnish casualties were fewer than 10 percent of the Soviet troops. This episode marks the largest-scale and most effective use of ski troops in history. The Russians devastating losses forced them to recognize the sovereignty of the Finnish Government. The threat of a British and French Allied reinforcements for Finland helped secure a reasonably favorable peace treaty. The Finns had to sacrifice 10% of their land for peace, but prevented the USSR from taking over the entire country. Source 1 Source 2

9. The First Snowmaking Machine

"A Modern Snowmaking Machine" Photo source The Tey Manufacturing Company of Milford, Connecticut, holds the first patent on the snow making machine. In March 1950, company inventor and engineer Wayne Pierce came up with an idea that if you blew droplets of water through freezing air, the water would then turn into frozen hexagonal crystals i.e. snowflakes. Pierce and his partners used a paint spray compressor, nozzle and some garden hose to make a very primitive machine that created snow. In 1949, the Mohawk Mountain Ski Resort became the first ski resort in the world to use a snow-making machine for ski mountains. The resort gave the Tey Manufacturing Company permission to experiment with one of the first snow-making prototypes. In 1951, Walt Schoenknecht, the owner of Mohawk Mountain, announced that the long testing period was successful, and the snow-maker was able to add three inches of man-made snow to an eight-inch base. The company was granted a basic-process patent and installed a few of their snowmaking machines. However, in 1956, the partners sold their company and patent rights to the Emhart Corporation. In 1958, Alden Hanson filed a patent for a new type of snowmaking machine, the "Fan Snowmaker". The earlier Tey patent was a compressed air and water machine, which had some drawbacks, such as noise, energy demands, blockages etc. In 1961, Hanson was issued a patent for the use of a fan, particulate water, and the optional use of a nucleating agent (dirt particles). The Hanson patent is considered the pioneer patent for all fan snowmaking machines. He also developed the "Hanson Ski Boot" and the "Flofit" for the "Lange Ski Boot". Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

10. The First Stone Skis

"Spada Skis from Zai, in Switzerland" Photo source Based in Switzerland, designer Simon Jacomet and his team at Zai, have established a reputation for designing and crafting the most advanced, high-spec skis in the world. Only 500 pairs are made a year. These very special limited edition Spada (the Romanic word for sword) skis are the first ever made to have a heart of Grisons granite. Using stone in ski construction is a revolutionary idea. This is made possible by Technocarbon of Munich’s new Carbon Fibre Stone technology, in which the stone is rendered bendable. The stone core extends all along the ski which is wrapped in carbon fiber to allow it to flex without breaking. You can even see a segment of the Grisons granite through a small window in the surface of the ski. This new material combination has some very special qualities, as stone has enormous compressive strength and resilience, it retains its shape, and dampens vibrations. The result is a ski with incomparable agility, grip and smoothness. Source 1 Source 2

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