By Jeff Leich, New England Ski Museum
all of Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic and the rim of Siberia. It spread over Europe, down as far as central
France, around Lyon. There, the Paleolithic Cro-Magnon man hunted the reindeer roaming the tundra that
ran up to the line of the ice front. Cave drawings hint that he knew the sledge, the snowshoe and the ski.”
Roland Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion: The Dramatic History of Skiing. New York: Continuum, 2008, 3.
Ca. 6000 BC: “The earliest known traces come from northern Russia, near the White Sea. They were
uncovered during the 1960s by Grigoriy Burov, a Ukrainian archeologist, at a dig called Vis, after an
adjoining river. They were in the form of fragments from about 6,000 BC. Belonging to the Mesolithic, that
is between the Old and New Stone Age, they are among the oldest wooden objects ever found. They
predate the invention of the wheel, in south-eastern Europe or Asia Minor, by three-and-a-half millennia.
…the Vis fragments…come from a peat bog. They are common in the north and luckily preserve certain
kinds of wood. About 200 old skis have been unearthed in Sweden, Finland and Norway and an unknown
number in Russia. They span the best part of eight millennia. The archeological record is nonetheless
incomplete. Some skis must have been made of birch or other deciduous wood. Almost none have come
down to us from the distant past. Most surviving skis were made from conifers, mostly pine. The resin
preserves it in the peat bogs, where hardwoods are destroyed.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 5.
Ca. 2000 BC: “At Alta and perhaps Rødø in northern Norway there are prehistoric rock drawings of
skiers from around 2000 BC, and the new Stone Age or Neolithic. Better still is a series of rock drawings
from the same period. They are at Zalavruga, in north-west Russia, near Burov’s excavations at Vis.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 6.
5200 years Before Present: “The Kalvträsk ski comes from the coastal lowlands of northern Sweden….The Kalvträsk find…is the oldest complete ski yet excavated. Accidentally found by a forestry inspector in 1924, the Kalvträsk ski belonged originally to a pair, together with part of a stick, but one ski crumbled during transport from the peat bog where it was found. The Kalvträsk ski is an anomaly. Its length of 204 cm, and relatively narrow width of 15 cm place it among the Western Fennoscandian group of skis. By its vertical binding holes, however, it is an eastern type, once common in Siberia. Like a Stone Age relic, it still exists among Mongolians who have clung to their native skiing tradition in the Altai mountains of Central Asia. If nothing else, it is a pointer to early migration.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 8-10
7th Century AD: “The breakthrough comes from a Chinese work, the Bei Shi or ‘Northern
History’. It mentions the “Northern Shiwei’, who live around the Tuhe Mountains, where the climate is
Extremely cold…In winter they go into the mountains and live in earth dugouts…There
is an abundance of river deer, which they hunt with bow and arrow…When there are
large amounts of snow on the ground, fearing lest they fall into crevasses or pitfalls, they
ride on wood. This is the first known direct allusion to ski, anywhere….It is in the realm of the real world. The Tuhe
Mountains are now the Lesser Xing’an Range. The Shiwei were the ancestors of the Mongols.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 17.
Late 15th Century: A depiction of skis, possibly the earliest on paper known, appeared in a Russian
manuscript. The illustration caption by the author reads, "Passers-by heard singing by angels at the spot
where the body of Prince Gleb was discovered."
Likhachev, N. P. Litsevoe zhitie sviatykh blagoviernykh kniazei russkikh Borisa i Glieba, po rukopisi
kontsa XV stolietiia [Illustrated Life of the Holy and Blessed Russian Princes Boris and Gleb, from a Late
15th Century Manuscript]. St. Petersburg: Obshchestvo drevnei pis'mennosti [Society for Old Literature],
volume 124, illustration #15, 1907. Facsimile of manuscript in Library of Congress, translation by Harold
1555: “Olaus (Magnus) published his book at last; in Latin, of course. The title was Historia de Gentibus
Septentrionalibus—‘An Account of the Northern Peoples.’ This was one of the formative works of the later
Renaissance. It brought the North into European consciousness. The first book on Scandinavia by a native
writer to be published abroad, it was also the first comprehensive description. Over 800 pages long, it was
yet no daunting tome but wholly readable, bursting with illustrations and haunted by the spirit of an exile
pining for his native land. It was a best seller from the start and was quickly translated into Italian.
…Olaus dismissed the notion of the horrors of the frigid zone. He was the first to expound on the charms of
the northern winter; the first to offer an authentic disquisition on snow and skiing in print.
By their skill, these people can climb mountains which wee otherwise completely
inaccessible and also race down into the steepest valleys, especially in the
wintertime…Thus, after leaving the depth of the valley, they will make their way ahead
in wide swings round the bases of the crags, and then steer obliquely in short zigzags up
the slopes until finally, over precipices and crevasses reach the summit., and the goal they
have set themselves. Sometimes they perform such exploits in the heat of the chase, and
sometimes in competing with each other, since everyone wishes to appear the best,
exactly as, on the running track, one wants to overtake in order to win the race.
This is the original reference to Nordic skiing as a sport.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 36-37.
1733: “In 1733, a certain Major Jens Henrik Emahausen produced the first formal regulations (for ski
troops). They were the first of their kind, anywhere. Compared with the Finns, Swedes, and Russians, the
Norwegian solders were better downhill skiers. Nonetheless, true to his times and his profession, he
reduced everything to a drill movement.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 37-48.
1767: “…Somehow the (Norwegian) army had to maintain the standard of recruits.
One who was notably concerned was General Carl Schack Rantzau, commander of the Norwegian
army….He managed to appropriate the money to found prizes for regimental ski races. In July 1767 he
issued the regulations:
- Class 1…for those who, on a reasonable slope, can fire their guns and are most
successfully in hitting certain prescribed targets at a range of 40 to 50 paces.
Class 2…for those who, on a reasonably wooded slope, are best at hurling themselves
between the trees without…falling or breaking their skis.
Class 3…for those who, without riding or resting on their stick are best at running down
the steepest slope without falling.
Class 4…for those who, on a level space, ski fastest over 2.5 kilometers with full
equipment…with gun over the shoulder.
they appeared in the outside world….Rantzau was merely codifying what already existed. He had been
preceded two years earlier by an obscure manuscript. The author was one Grüner, identity unknown. He
illustrated the various events by a series of naïve drawings, with accompanying captions. These anticipate
Rantzau’s rules. In Grüner, however, the downhill race is timed.
Grüner added the ski-jump, not included in Rantzau’s rules. It was done ‘when a skier is forced to make a
jump because of a drop or hole that he cannot avoid.’ It was what we call a terrain jump…This completed
the repertoire of skiing events.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 49-50.
1771: “Under the Danish crown, a Norwegian sense of identity had long been dormant. Since the middle
of the eighteenth century, national consciousness had begun to stir. The central figure was a scholar named
Gerhard Schøning…In 1771, he published the first modern history of Norway.
…Skiing, ‘was counted amongst the greatest arts in olden times.’ This is probably the earliest move,
anywhere, to use sport as an agent of national identity.
Schøning was himself a practiced skier. He presented skiing as a civic virtue. He also showed the
Norwegians to themselves as children of winter, with skiing as the emblem of their national identity.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 53-54
1826: “One result (of the Napoleonic Wars) had been that, in 1809, Sweden lost Finland to Russia and,
as compensation, had Norway transferred to her from Denmark. That happened in 1814, the year before
Waterloo. By a bizarre twist of a tumultuous age, the Swedish regent was now a Frenchman: Jean-Baptiste
Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals. He had turned against his erstwhile master and became the
founder of the present royal family of Sweden. He duly annexed Norway but under surprisingly generous
terms. He granted the Norwegians the domestic autonomy, the parliament and the constitution that they
craved. After nearly a thousand years, Sweden was no longer a threat and Norway’s land border was
pacified at last. Bernadotte, however, was taking no risks. In 1826, the Norwegian ski troops were finally
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 52.
1841: “Scandinavians, particularly Norwegians, had been the first on skis in the continental United
States in 1841. From a Midwestern base, they dominated American skiing with their Idræet culture until
well in the 1920s. Having used skis as a means of locomotion for centuries, Scandinavians made a game
and a sport of it. In the new country immigrant interest in racing across the countryside continued, but
increasingly, jumping from constructed towers became the center piece of most competitions.”
E. John B. Allen, The Culture and Sport of Skiing From Antiquity to World War II. Amherst: University of
Massachusetts Press, 2007, 216.
1843: “On 19 March 1843, a local newspaper in the North Norwegian port of Tromsø carried this
INVITATION TO A RACE ON SKIS
On Tuesday afternoon the 21st inst., weather and snow conditions permitting, a few
people propose to test the speed of their ski and the extent of their powers in a race from
the town hall to the well of Herr Ebeltoft’s farm on the other side of the island and back
again to the starting point….
This marked the opening of an age. It was the first ever published announcement of a modern ski race. That
is to say it was not military but civilian, open and for fun. Whether it actually took place as advertised is
unclear but one race definitely did, on Thursday 30 March. There was another the following Sunday, 2
April. These were the first recorded modern ski races. On 6 April, the same local newspaper—Tromsø-
Tidende, reported the proceedings. This was the first known press coverage of ski racing in the world;
front-page exclusive into the bargain. It was the work of the editor himself, Otto Theodor Krohg…He was
one of the skiing pioneers. Tall, massive, ebullient, big-boned, with bulbous features, he whimsically
masqueraded under the nom de plume of “Little Theodor’.
From a certain point of view, Tromsø was an odd place for such historic happenings. Well north of the
Arctic Circle, it was then a small isolated fishing and sealing port. However, it did lie at a crossroads of
skiing cultures. Lapps inhabited the hinterlands. Finns were part of the population. “Little Theodor” seemed
made for this milieu….Besides being editor and chief reporter, he was the founder and owner of Tromsø-
Tidende, wrote most of the copy himself and helped in the typesetting too. In holy orders, he was
passionately devoted to music as well as skiing, and doubled as the local schoolmaster.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 65-67.
1849: “…on 24 February 1849, several hundred miles to the south of Tromsø, a Trondheim newspaper
had carried this advertisement: ‘Anyone who wishes to participate in a Ski-Tour…on Sunday (weather
permitting) should meet in the Market Square at 1 pm.’
Trondheim, the ancient capital of Norway, became the cradle of organized ski touring, partly on account of
the terrain. Rolling Nordic country, overlaid with conifers, reached almost to the centre of the town. This
movement, however, like those in other fields, owed its origins to the burning dedication of one or two
The first advertisements were anonymous. Behind them, it eventually emerged, lay the bespectacled,
unsoldierly figure of Carl Bonaparte Roosen, an engineer captain in the Norwegian army. He it was who
single-handed had organized everything. This was symptomatic. Military officers were trailblazers in
skiing. It was not merely for the sake of winter warfare. As regulars in a conscript army, they were much
concerned with the health of recruits and the behaviour of the rising generation.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 68.
1856: “The most consistent reporting of “snowshoeing” concerns two activities: mail delivery and
racing. Hero status was conferred on John A. Thompson (originally from Tinn, Norway) because in 1856
he made winter communication between the Great Basin of Utah and the Pacific Coast efficient for the first
time. “Snowshoe” Thompson’s 90-mile crossing from Genoa to Placerville over snowed-in mountain
ranges was and instant success. Gradually skiing mailmen, Norwegians and others, became ubiquitous in
the high country and were much appreciated.”
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 217
1856: “The name of John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson was added to the roster in January 1956, when the
Norwegian farmer from Putah Creek, California, made his first successful crossing from Placerville to
Genoa, skiing from the snowline at Strawberry, California to the snowline at Woodfords, California, a short
distance from the Nevada state line and Genoa. Soon he was the only man who would and could stand the
mountain furies and he took over the Siberia of snow on that route for himself, leaving the shorter and less
arduous ones to other men who were not so daring.
“Snow-shoe”—few ever knew that his right name was John A…Tostensen….When he was 10 years old,
his father having died, his mother brought him, with his brother, to America. They were accompanied by a
friend from Kongsberg, a city which gave its name to the town in Alpine County, California, which later
became Snow-shoe Thompson’s home town of Silver Mountain. The Thompson family joined a group of
50 farmers from Tinns. In 1838 they left Telemarken on the long journey to America.
First the family settled in Illinois, then Missouri, then Iowa and back again to Illinois. In 1851, then 24, the
man who was to become known as Snow-shoe joined a party headed for California’s gold fields. He mined
for a time in several camps and later, when success did not crown his efforts, turned to agriculture.”
William B. Berry, Lost Sierra: Gold, Ghosts & Skis. Western America SkiSport Museum, Soda Springs, CA, 1991, 73.
1857: “They (Sierra natives) have been seriously handicapped in their efforts to give their legends
authentic foundation by the deplorable scarcity of contemporaneous newspaper accounts of early days in
that region. The editions of local papers were small. Moreover, almost every scrap of newspaper found
immediate use in the domestic economy of that time and place. Consequently, the existing files are
incomplete, and it probable that the legendary beginnings of ski-racing at LaPorte, in 1857, may never be
David C. Mills, “California Pioneers on Skis”, American Ski Annual (1938-39), 35-36.
Gold Rush Skiing in General: “This Californian snowshoeing had no effect on the rest of the country.
In spite of all the evidence of organized, modern sport: rules and regulations, timers, starters, course layers,
clubs, uniforms, record keeping, champions, etc, it was merely a thing of the moment to pass the winter
away in companionable—for the most part—and competitive enjoyment. …When Californians inquired
about the Midwestern National Ski Association’s tournament, the Norwegians simply did not bother to
reply, so no Californian skiing was tested in the larger American arena.”
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 218
1860: “Up and down the country, skiing as recreation had begun to take root. All that, however, was in
the provinces. The capital city lagged behind. Only in February 1860, more than a decade after Trondheim,
did Morgenbladet, a leading Christiania newspaper and therefore part of the national press, carry the first
advertisement for a ski tour. It was probably the start of organized skiing in Christiania. The tour was to
Maridalen, on the northern outskirts of the city”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 69.
1861: “On New Year's Eve, 1861, Illustreret Nyhedsblad, a popular Christiania magazine, distributed to
its subscribers a supplement that included Bernt Lund's poem "Trysil-Knud" about the mythical 18th
century ski-trooper from Østerdalen in Eastern Norway. The dashing figure of Knud, who bested all in a
ski jumping competition (merrily firing off a musket shot while in the air) and won a legendary bet by
covering a distance of 120 kilometer faster than a horse and sled, provided precisely the heroic image
needed by the nascent efforts to spur skiing”.
Einar Sunde, “1860s Norway: Breakout for Skiing as a Sport”, 2009 International Ski History Congress, Mammoth Lakes, CA, April 1, 2009, 1.
1860s: “Why Norway and why the 1860s?
First, Norway's geography meant that farms and villages were isolated and communication difficult,
particularly during the long winters. As a result, not only was the utilitarian use of skis an everyday fact of
life, but there existed a great variety of skis and styles of skiing, each adapted to local use.
Second, the rise of Norwegian nationalism in mid-century, and the memory of the ski troops and
their exploits, combined to create a powerful image ready to be exploited by Norwegian political and
cultural figures, including ski enthusiasts.
Thirdly, the industrial revolution brought increasing prosperity in the period 1843 to 1870, leading
toward greater urbanization, wider circulation of popular media such as newspapers and magazines and a
population with the time (and need) for games, amusements and physical exercise.
Finally, new European ideas on fitness and physical exercise (Johan Gutsmuths' 1804 edition of his
seminal work "Gymnastics for Youth" included references to skiing in Norway)
were spreading among the urban population. The Norwegian military officers and like-minded civilians
who assumed leading roles in the organizational aspects of skiing in the 1860s were familiar with these
movements and theories; they simply adapted them to Norwegian circumstances”.
Sunde, “1860s Norway”, 1-2.
1860s: “Climate change also hindered progress. The Little Ice Age had ended. Temperatures were rising.
Winters were unreliable, and the limit of dependable snow had begun receding to the heights”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 81.
January 1861: “…formation of a national umbrella organization called "Centralforeningen for
Udbredelse av Legemsovelser og Vaabenbrug" [The Central Association for the Spread of Physical
Exercise and the Use of Weapons]. It quickly became known as just "Centralforeningen." As the name
implies, the goal was by no means limited to rifle shooting, the purpose being "to promote volunteer-based
physical activity and weapons training, to support these, to utilize the energy of diverse persons from
various parts of the country, and lead them toward the common goal of securing the national defense."”
Sunde, “1860s Norway”, 2-3.
January 22, 1862: “…the first documented ski race after those at Tromsø in 1843. That
was on 22 January 1862 in Trysil…Its crucial advance was to have been organized by a dedicated sporting
body. Moreover, unlike the local newspaper of the Tromsø races, Trysil was covered by the national press.
It was the first truly modern ski race.
In a very different part of the country from Tromsø, Trysil lies inland among the rolling landscape of the
south-east, with its eskers, the prehistoric moraines, as a reminder of the Ice Age. It had a long skiing
tradition. It was the home of a skiing legend in the form of a semi-mythical figure call Trysil-Knud. He was
the hero of a poem, the denouement of which was a downhill run somewhere on the west coast. Having
previously hung his coat on a handy bush, he plucked it up and put it on without stopping, at full speed,
before jumping into a boat at the bottom of the slope and vanishing down the fjord.
Morgenbladet covered the Trysil race…
The track consisted of a long slope, the upper part of which had a gradient of about 35
degrees, below this a flat runout, and thereafter a slope rising on the other side, where
judges and spectators were placed. At the bottom of the long slope…snow had been piled
up to form an artificial lip with a sudden takeoff which, to a considerable degree,
increased the difficulty of an already steep slope. The object was to run down the slope
on ski without falling, in addition to which the judges required easy movement and a
This was the first reported ski-jumping competition, admittedly combined with a downhill race.
The Trysil winner was one Halvor Dahl. That too made history. He was the first ski champion to be known
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 77
February 16, 1862: “The next known event in Christiania occurred two years later. Again the
Morgenbladet carried a small advertisement. Now the venue was Grorud, to the east of the city, in more
attractive terrain. The Press covered the proceedings extensively….What is more, Illustret Nyhedsblad, a
weekly picture journal, produced an illustrated feature, the first time that skiing was so honored, anywhere.
Some thirty skiers gathered at the Christiania railway station for the short train journey out to Grorud…it
was the first example of a dedicated railway carriage for a skiing party”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 69.
January 21, 1863: “Trysil led the way again in 1863. That event, too, was historic. A girl wrote
asking permission to take part, ‘not to win any of the prizes,’ as Morgenbladet reported, ‘because these
could only be won by men and boys…but in a village where skiing is just as vital for women as for men if
they are to get out of the house, it might be of interest to see an example of women’s accomplishments in
the use of skis.’…The girl’s name was Ingrid Olsdatter Vestbyen. She was 16 years old. These details are
important. Ingrid was the first recorded woman ski racer, and ski-jumper to boot”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 75-76.
March 1866: “…the first ski race in Christiania, the capital…In another link between the rise of skiing
and the birth of popular journalism, a Christiania newspaper called Aftenbladet organized the
event…Skiing was introduced by officials returned from postings to the provinces. The process of revival
had been speeded by the university.
Aftenbladet’s race was run on a slope called Iversløkken. Half-forgotten, forlorn and overgrown today, it
commemorates the early days of modern skiing. It had a vertical drop of only 30 m. For contemporary
skiers, it was enough….A crowd of 2,000 packed the course—in a city with a population of only 40,000”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 79-80.
1867: Most competitions were downhill runs with one or more jumps, with judging being based on style
and other subjective factors (though Trondheim's race in 1864 based results on time only). Early in 1867,
Centralforeningen promulgated guidelines for competitions. The key changes included (i) setting a course
that required participants to ski downhill over jumps and then over mixed terrain back to the top of the hill,
(ii) requiring that the course be run three times, and (iii) adding time elapsed as a key judging element
(though the skiers continued to be also judged on the basis of style and technique).17 It then put its new
rules to the test by directly organizing competitions at Iversløkka in the capital in both 1867 and 1868, with
the latter proving to be the breakthrough event due in no small part to the acclaimed performance of the
Sondre Norheim from Telemark.
Sunde, “1860s Norway”, 4.
1867: “The race (in Telemark province, west of the capital) was in two parts. One was a simple downhill
run, ‘long and steep’; the other was a slope with a jump in the middle. …This was the first time that the
jump became an event in its own right…it was also a return to an older tradition of landing on a slope
rather than the flat.”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 82.
1868: ‘On February 9, despite the Sabbatarians, a Sunday—Centralforeningen then organized the third
race in Christiania; again on and around the Iversløkken slope. For the first time, the race was
deliberatively representative…Invitations were sent out all over the country.
…The winner was a newcomer called Sondre Ouversen Nordheim. …Nordheim came from Morgedal in
Telemark. He was the first among equals. On time alone, there were three Telemark skiers in the first six. It
was, however, not their placing that inspired but as that same journalist put it, ‘the effortless certainty with
which they shot down, without touching the ground with their stick.’
Like most Telemark skiers, Nordheim was poor and belonged to the land. He scratched a living as a
country carpenter making spare parts for the handlooms that were still a staple of almost every farm.
Morgedal was the remote valley from which came the triumphant Telemark skiers at the Christiania race.
Elegance was their virtue…So fragmented was the nation still, that only now was their reputation
beginning to seep out from its native valleys into a wider world.
…It was…the Christiania race of 1868 that opened the domination of the Telemark school. This was
because it was held in the capital, with concomitant press coverage”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 82-83.
Mid 1870s to early 1890s: “Norway's economy was hit hard during the “depression” from mid
1870s to the early 1890s. GDP stagnated, particularly during the 1880s, and prices fell until 1896. This
stagnation is mirrored in the large-scale emigration from Norway to North America in the 1880s. At its
peak in 1882 as many as 28,804 persons, 1.5 percent of the population, left the country. All in all, 250,000
emigrated in the period 1879-1893, equal to 60 percent of the birth surplus. Only Ireland had higher
emigration rates than Norway between 1836 and 1930, when 860,000 Norwegians left the country.
The long slowdown can largely been explained by Norway's dependence on the international economy and
in particular the United Kingdom, which experienced slower economic growth than the other major
economies of the time. As a result of the international slowdown, Norwegian exports contracted in several
years, but expanded in others. A second reason for the slowdown in Norway was the introduction of the
international gold standard. Norway adopted gold in January 1874, and due to the trade deficit, lack of gold
and lack of capital, the country experienced a huge contraction in gold reserves and in the money stock.
The deflationary effect strangled the economy. Going onto the gold standard caused the appreciation of the
Norwegian currency, the krone, as gold became relatively more expensive compared to silver. A third
explanation of Norway's economic problems in the 1880s is the transformation from sailing to steam
vessels. Norway had by 1875 the fourth biggest merchant fleet in the world. However, due to lack of capital
and technological skills, the transformation from sail to steam was slow. Norwegian ship owners found a
niche in cheap second-hand sailing vessels. However, their market was diminishing, and finally, when the
Norwegian steam fleet passed the size of the sailing fleet in 1907, Norway was no longer a major maritime
Ola Grytten, "The Economic History of Norway," in Robert Whaples (Ed.), EH.net Encyclopedia, Economic History Association, March 16, 2008.
1877: “Some other institution had to take over the promotion of the sport. This turned out to be the
Christiania Ski Club. It was formed in 1877 by a group of young men from the upper classes. …The club
grew out of informal skiing circles. Wholly serious they were not. One playground of these bringers of
jollity was a slope known at Kastelbakken—“Castle Hill’ outside the western city limits at a farm called
Huseby. It was longer and steeper than the other local slopes; besides which, they were being engulfed by
rapid urban building. It was at Huseby that the Christiania Ski Club decided to organize the next
representative ski race”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 89.
February 12, 1879: “That first Huseby race was held on the 12 February 1879…With the aid of
extra railway trains, some 10,000 spectators had gathered—almost one tenth of the city’s population.
…with the slope deliberately tramped down, the going was decidedly ‘firm and fast,’ but impossible it was
not. Jumps of over 15 m were the rule…Improved technique was part of the answer, but also the contour of
This allowed critically longer jumps in relative safety. The trajectory was new and proved to be the key.
Previously, it would drop the skier back to earth like a stone. This one was such that, at touchdown, it was
quite tangential to the natural contour of the outrun. This reduced the shock of landing. …Intentionally or
not, this was the first modern ski-jump.
…Yet again, the men of Telemark swept the board. They took the first five places. …Hitherto, most skiers
had simply allowed gravity to carry them over the jump but, in the words of one journalist, they ‘crouched
down some 10 to 15 m before taking off, so that at the edge of the jump they could (uncoil and) give
themselves extra speed and thus achieve the greatest possible length’. In other words, a recognizably
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 90-91.
March 8, 1879: “[The author,…himself a Telemarking] gave an explanation of Telemark skiing
terminology. This arose from the local dialect, a world away from the Danish-Norwegian spoken by the
educated classes in the towns. The terms were not known elsewhere:
The track of…skis in the snow…is called…a ‘laam’ (plural ‘laamir’). A clear distinction
is drawn between a race with a jump, and one without. The former is called ‘hoppelaam’
[literally ‘jumping stick’]…The other kind of race [is a] ‘slalaam’.
That was the first appearance in print of the word which we now know as slalom….For the record,
Faedrelandet was the name of the journal.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 91-92.
1870s up: Influence of Telemark: “Travel to Morgedal and you will find signs announcing it, or Telemark
generally, as the "cradle of skiing," a statement that received a degree of official endorsement in connection
with the 1952 Winter Olympics, when the Olympic torch was lit in Sondre Norheim's cabin at Øverbø in
Telemark (and repeated for the 1960 and 1994 Winter Games). Recent scholarship in Norway, starting
with the publication of På Trønderski in 1988, has taken strong issue with this. Among others, Kjell
Haarstad, argues that Telemark in general and Norheim in particular, have received much too much credit
and that the claims by Fritz Huitfeldt, and ski historians such as Jacob Vaage, to the effect that Telemark
was the "cradle" of skisport, are unsubstantiated and misrepresent the historical record.
On the one hand, it has been long overdue that the rich history of skiing throughout Norway is
further researched and documented. And Haarstad makes some good points in noting the lack of written
records and in challenging specific statements made by Huitfeldt, Vaage and others to the effect that
Norheim was the one to introduce or invent osier bindings around the heel for greater control. Without
getting into the issue of what exactly Huitfeldt and others wrote or intended, it has been shown that ossier
heel bindings were in use long before Norheim. The problem with Haarstad's argument is that the skiers
from Telemark, when they participated, did extremely well as a group and, when they competed against
skiers from other regions, someone from Telemark usually won (and if they did not win they nevertheless
generated the most excitement and admiration). The newspaper account of the 1864 competition at Lund
outside Kristiansand, won by Nils Hougo from Telemark, is a representative sample:
Especially impressive was a young man from Telemark with his daring jumps over the
precipices. Powerfully built and supple, he completed the jumps with his legs and skis
pulled up and arms spread out and, in the instant he again came back to earth, he was
ready for the next jump. He was like a steel spring, alternatively bending down and
then springing up.
They did the same when they came to Kristiania, led by Norheim. There remain fascinating questions
concerning the equipment and culture of skiing in Telemark that are only partially answered by the oral
stories and traditions collected years later by Einar Stoltenberg and Torjus Loupedalen, and likewise for
other parts of Norway. But the fact remains that by their example, the skiers from Telemark, as a group,
consistently proved to be best within the context of the way skiing developed in the 1860 and thereby both
inspired others to participate and aspire to even greater performances, and defined the basic line of
development of skiing for the next generation. The all-around skill demonstrated so well by Norheim in
1868 - the blend of strength and skill in jumping, downhill, cross-country and turning - would remain the
model of the ideal skier well into the 20th Century and the age of specialization”.
Sunde, “1860s Norway”, 9-10.
1882: “More than half a century ago, a boy of sixteen came to northern New Hampshire from Norway.
…Olaf Olesen came to Berlin where he found mountain ranges whose winter slopes were like his
homeland. Here, in 1882, with pine boards from the saw mill, he fashioned the first pair of skis ever made
in New England.
Olaf and his father had made skis in Norway. In Berlin he made them for a group of friends and
countrymen who, in the winter of 1882, formed the “Skiklubben”—the first ski club in America.
Nansen Ski Club, “1938 Eastern Elimination Contests”, New England Ski Museum Collection 1983L.098.001, page 4.
August 15 to September 28, 1888: “After the difficulties in getting onto the landmass of Greenland itself,
the crossing was very successful. …they slogged across the inland ice, and this was duly reported in the
6,600 copies of Nansen’s book Paa Ski over Grønland. …Other explorers had taken skis but had not used
them as the main means for crossing the snow. Nansen, therefore, gave to the skis a special place in his
book. And they were indeed special: two pairs made of oak and seven of birch. The birch ones had thin
steel sheaths on the bottom as well as small holes for attaching skins. …But the success of the expedition
seemed to prove the utility of these Norwegian skis, and the vital fact was that Norwegians had shown the
world what skiers could accomplish. Even in Norway, there were few who had realized what an impact it
was to have.”
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 60.
September 1888: “Around 16 September, they reached the summit of the ice cap. It leveled out and then
began gradually to slope down. A fortnight later, and 150 km further on, the gradient was such that Nansen
rigged sails on the sledges to run before an easterly wind that sprang up. Then it was a matter not of hauling
but steering the sledges like ships, albeit on a choppy sea. ‘The whole day passed and we had no time even
to eat. It was such fun to ski’, as Balto artlessly put it. They covered nearly 70 km; nearly five times their
daily average run so far. This anticipated the wind-powered parachutes of latter-day skiing adventurers.
Almost casually, Nansen and his men had demythologized the polar environment and revolutionized polar
The first crossing of Greenland came to an end on 21 September 1888. Then the snow finally gave out,
exposing the harsh bare blue surface of the ice cap, dome debouching in a broken, congealed cataract down
to the Ameralik fjord on the west coast below. Nansen and his men had come 400 km from Umivik. Of
that, they had skied 250 km continuously in 19 days. The whole journey had taken just under six weeks.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 138.
1888: “Nansen had set out to prove that skis could be used in polar regions. He had dramatically done
so, but it was in the obverse that his reputation fully flowered. It was as a skier, not an explorer that Nansen
had acquired instant fame. On the one hand he had turned polar exploration into a branch of sport; on the
other, through polar exploration, he had taken skiing out of northern mists and revealed it to the outside
world. It was a seminal achievement. This was not Nansen’s original purpose but he too had to live with the
law of unintended consequences”.
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 140.
1888: “Fridtjof Nansen’s great feat of crossing the southern third of Greenland on skis in 1888 was
hardly utilitarian in the accepted sense of the word. …Nansen was not from the bønder, but from the wellconnected
Christiania circles, although the smart set never embraced him fully. Always “something of a
soloist,” as a friend put it, Nansen wore his explorer’s outfit and wide-brimmed hat around town.
Yet Nansen embodied a stark form of Idræt. He was vigorous, and healthy, and appeared to be democratic,
too, One could hardly find more of a social mix than among the Greenland expedition members. Nansen’s
crossing of Greenland symbolized the national importance of skis, the healthy challenges of nature that
would move Norwegian nationalism, the Norwegian nation and, after his polar trip, the Norwegian state to
the fore and make it a political reality in 1905. These were immense undertakings achieved on skis, and he
came home honored and bemedaled from Denmark, Sweden, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and
Austria-Hungary, He had become a Norwegian icon, about whom there could be only one reading:
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 56.
February 7, 1888: “…the first 50 km race—the skiers’ marathon. It was part of the
Huseby program that season. The race was run on 7 February. The declared aim was ‘to encourage young
people to train sensibly, and to have a proper understanding of the benefits of skiing’.
Predictably, Torjus Hemmestveit won, so the prize was once again to Telemark. It was not as sinple as it
sounded. His time was nearly four and a half hours, twice that of victors over the distance after a century.
The significance of that 50 km race was that it was separate, with prizes of it own, divorced from jumping,
and decided exclusively on time.
This program accomplished the final separation of cross-country and jumping disciplines.
Another innovation at those Huseby races of 1888 was the appearance of various competitors ‘thinly clad
in knitwear jerseys and ditto trousers’, to quote one reporter. This was obviously copied from speed skaters;
another locally favored spectacle. It was the first recorded use of a specialized outfit for ski racing…”
Huntford, Two Planks and a Passion, 114.
1880s & later: “The skisport comprised two activities: cross-country and jumping. The utilitarian
locomotion was the base for competitive racing, but immigrants tired quickly of the sweat and the lack of
heroics a cross-country run demanded. Jumping became ever more important as leaps neared the magic
100-foot mark and drew large crowds of spectators. The meets required organization. In the 1880s clubs
had been formed out of the need to represent communities at local carnivals. With the advent of easy
railroad transportation, clubs hosted much larger meets, and more permanent organizations emerged.
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 220.
1890: “Of all the sports of Norway, ‘skilöbning’ is the most national and characteristic , and I cannot
think that I go too far when I claim for it, as practiced in our country, a position in the very first rank of the
sports of the world. I know no form of sport which so evenly develops the muscles, which renders the body
so strong and elastic, which teaches so well the qualities of dexterity and resource, which in an equal
degree calls for decision and resolution , and which gives the same vigor and exhilaration to mind and body
alike. Where can one find a healthier and purer delight than when on a brilliant winter day one binds one’s
‘ski’ to one’s feet and takes one’s way out into the forest? Can there be anything more beautiful than the
northern winter landscape, when the snow lies foot-deep, spread as a soft white mantel over field and wood
and hill? Where will one find more freedom and excitement than when one glides swiftly down the hillside
through the trees, one’s cheek brushed by the sharp cold air and frosted pine branches, and one’s eye, brain,
and muscles alert and prepared to meet every unknown obstacle and danger which the next instant may
throw in one’s path? Civilisation is, as it were, washed clean from the mind and left far behind with the city
atmosphere and city life; one’s whole being is, so to say, wrapped in one’s ‘ski’ and the surrounding nature.
There is something in the whole which develops soul and not body alone, and the sport is perhaps of far
greater national importance than is generally supposed.”
Fridtjof Nansen, The First Crossing of Greenland. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1890, 83-84.
1895-1896: “With the Fram embedded in ice, Nansen, and the carefully selected Hjalmar Johansen,
left the ship on March 14, 1895, taking the stronger and well-prepared skis with them. The record of the
struggle over difficult ice, in deep and loose snow, sometimes sticking mercilessly to the base of the skis,
the abandoning of extra gear, the use of skis underneath the sleeping bags to keep clear of pools of water,
all made for gripping reading. …They turned away from the Pole at 86 degrees 14—the farthest north
reached by any man. This was the stuff of Viking deeds mitigated by the marvelous chance meeting on
June 17, 1896 with Frederick Jackson, the English gentleman adventurer accoutered in a checked suit. “I
raised my hat,” wrote Nansen. “How do you do?” Once Jackson realized it was Nansen, “By Jove! I am
devilish glad to see you!” A snowy reenactment of Livingstone and Stanley. The front page of the
Illustrated London News caught the attitudes precisely: “To have approached the North Pole within 226
miles is a grand feat of enterprise.”
Allen, Culture and Sport of Skiing, 61.
Continue to PART II...