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Skiing History

The History of Downhill and Cross Country Skiing


Mathias Zdarsky

Mathias Zdarsky (L) on skis in 1910

Imagno/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While the history of skiing is somewhat obscure, historians do have a good idea of the basic history of skiing. The first type of skiing was cross country skiing, which then evolved into downhill skiing.

The First Skis

It is believed that skiing evolved from snowshoeing in Northern Europe and Asia. Skiing evolved thousands of years ago, as the oldest skis found in France and Switzerland were estimated to be about 5,000 years old.

Ski poles evolved from the walking sticks snowshoers used for balance. Skiing was a way of transportation, and the fact that the bindings on old skis were loose toe straps proved that the first skis were cross country skis. After all, these loose bindings wouldn't secure the skis on downhill run, so the first skiers were nordic skiers.

Downhill Skiing History

Downhill skiing came later, during a more modern era. In 1850, Sondre Norheim, a Norwegian, constructed a birch binding that that enabled skiers to ski without the risk of losing their skis. Norheim's bindings were perhaps the first stiff bindings, which tied his boots to his skis and provided more control than leather straps. While others had built devices similar to this before Norheim, Norheim paired his birch binding with shorter, curved skis that enabled him to win the first Norwegian downhill skiing competition. Most historians believe that Norheim's method of skiing is similar to the modern day form of telemark, or "free heel" skiing.

Zdarsky's Bindings

Later on in 1896, even firmer bindings were developed by Matthias Zdarsky. Zdarsky's bindings allowed a skier to turn more effectively. Zdarsky's partnering of stiff bindings and his technique of pushing one ski at an angle down the fall line to control speed led to the development of downhill skiing. With more and more improvements, skiing to became the popular recreational activity that we participate in today.



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