Throughout the most recent cold snap, I have watched as countless cross country skiers have braved the winter chill. I strapped on my first pair of skis about one year ago while living on the North Shore. I instantly took a liking to it despite some undignified crash landings. I hadn’t really paid much attention to skiing before last year, and only now have I begun to recognize how much it means to people across Minnesota. Of course, I knew that our passion for skiing can be attributed to our strong Scandinavian heritage, but what role has skiing played beyond recreation? The answers are remarkable.
Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence about the exact origin of Nordic skiing, although current research shows that the first skis may have been developed as far back as 10,000 years ago in the Lake Baikal region of Central Asia. The oldest Scandinavian ski remains date back approximately 4,500 years. For reference, that means skis were being used in Scandinavia before the development of alphabetic writing (1800 B.C.) the domestication of the horse (2000 B.C.), and the completion of Stonehenge (2200 B.C.).
Skis were originally used as a mode of transportation, especially when hunting. They did not look anything like the composite skis we see today. In fact, they weren’t even the same length! One ski was short and acted as the “kick” ski, while the other longer ski (up to 15 feet long) was used to glide over the snow. Early skiers also used a single pole. Why you ask? To carry their bow! Early Norwegian hunters were incredibly skilled at hunting moose and elk while on skis. In 1274, the practice of hunting on skis had to be limited to prevent the elk herds from being totally wiped out.
This is only the tip of the pole on skiing’s long history. What lessons can we learn from all of this? For one, we humans are hardy creatures! We may no longer be in the depths of negative high temperatures for now, but rest assured, they will return yet again. Next time, we will be ready with skis on our feet and poles in hand. See you on the trails!