10 curious things you probably didn’t know about skiing

It’s older than you might think, skis are just the beginning of the fun… and what’s North Korea got to do with it? Jessica Bown reports

1) It all started in Norway…

Norway Skiing Event

The word “ski” comes from the Old Norse word skíð, which means a piece of wood.

And ancient carvings unearthed by archeologists in Norway suggest the locals started skiing many thousands of years ago, with one rock drawing thought to date from 4000BC.

Modern skiing also owes a big debt to Sondre Norheim from Telemark, in Norway, who invented Telemark bindings, letting skiers jump and turn, in the 1800s.

2) … or possibly Asia

While skiing as a sport is widely accepted to have originated in Norway, tribesmen in the Altai Mountains between China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia may have been practising a form of skiing even earlier than the Scandinavians.

Part of a primitive, wooden ski thought to be 8,000 years old was found near Lake Sindor in Russia.

And a tribe in the Xinjiang province of China still makes skis by splitting spruce trees and wrapping them in dried horse skins, which they use to climb slopes as well as slide down them.

Unlike modern skiers, however, they have only one pole. They need the other hand for hunting elk!

3) The first snowboard was called a “snurfer”


In 1965, Sherman Poppen from Michigan, in America, made a snowboard for his daughter by binding two skis together to create a sort of skateboard without wheels.

He called it a “snurfer” – or a surfboard to use on snow.

About a million “snurfers”, which were steered with a handheld rope and had no bindings, were sold over the next 10 years.

4) Skiing owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes’s creator

statue of sherlock holmes in switzerland

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, discovered skiing when he moved to Switzerland in 1893 – the mountain air had been prescribed for his wife’s health.

There he found two locals, the Branger brothers, skiing at night to avoid fellow villagers’ derision.

With them he made the first pass of the 8,000ft Maienfelder Furka mountain passage.

He was also, according to the Telegraph, the first Englishman to write of the thrill of skiing, saying it took you “as near to flying as any earthbound man can”.

5) Snowboarding only became an Olympic sport in 1998

winter olympics sign

Cross-country skiing has been part of the Winter Olympics every year since the competition began, in 1924.

But alpine (or downhill) skiing only became an Olympic sport in 1936, despite the first recorded downhill race taking place decades earlier, in Sweden, in 1879.

And the relatively new sport of snowboarding made its Olympic debut just six years ago when the games were held in Nagano, Japan in 1998.

6) One day, you might be able to ski on the moon

When Harrison Schmitt visited the moon in 1972 as one of the three astronauts on the Apollo 17 spacecraft, he noticed that the mountainous rim of the Sea of Serenity would make an ideal spot for “lunar skiing holidays”!

Schmitt also set the moonwalking speed record by using the sliding toe-push technique used in cross-country skiing, which he said was ideal for moving across the surface of the moon.

7) There’s much more to snow sports than just skiing and snowboarding

Alpine (downhill) skiing and snowboarding might be the most popular winter sports. But there are loads of others.

Variations include snow scooting, when you slide down the slopes on a specially adapted scooter, and ski touring, which involves fixing “skins” to the bottom of your skis and walking up hills before skiing back down again.

Skijoring, meanwhile, is being pulled along on skis behind a horse, a team of dogs or a motorised skidoo.

8) You can ski faster than you can drive (well, some people can)

speed skiing

Most passenger cars are designed to reach speeds of around 120 miles an hour.

But speed skiers, who throw themselves down super steep slopes at the maximum speed possible, can go a lot faster than that.

The current world record, held by Italian skier Simone Origone, is an incredible 156.2 miles an hour!

9) Skis have been used to win battles off and on screen

Soldiers in mountainous regions have been using skis as a mode of wartime transport for hundreds of years. And ski troops played an important role in both the first and the second world wars.

Fictional British spy James Bond has also used his skiing prowess to beat bad guys in numerous films including The Spy Who Loved Me and The World Is Not Enough.

10) North Korea has a ski resort

North Korea skiing

Some 80 countries boast a ski area of some kind, some in places you might not expect.

Resorts that are well off the beaten track include Masik Pass in North Korea, Mount Hermon in Israel and Bamyan in Afghanistan.

You can even ski and snowboard in sunbaked Dubai, which has an indoor ski resort with a 60-metre “mountain”.


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