Tracking the History of Skiing

SPORTS

An ancient culture in the Chinese Altay Mountains offers a glimpse of how skiing evolved. (National Geographic Magazine)

Use our resources to learn more about the evolution of skiing.

Historians are divided on where skiing was born. Some argue it arose in Scandinavia and northwest Russia, though others point to the Altay region. Scientists continue to find evidence of these early skiers engraved in rock and preserved in bogs. Map by Daniela Santmarina, National Geographic Magazine; Debbie Gibbons, National Geographic Maps, Debbie Gibbons Source: Esther Jacobson-Tepfer

Historians are divided on where skiing was born. Some argue it arose in Scandinavia and northwest Russia, though others point to the Altay region. Scientists continue to find evidence of these early skiers engraved in rock and preserved in bogs.
Map by Daniela Santmarina, National Geographic Magazine; Debbie Gibbons, National Geographic Maps, Debbie Gibbons Source: Esther Jacobson-Tepfer

Discussion Ideas

  • Look at the map above. Why do you think cultures in Scandinavia and the Altay Mountains developed skiing cultures? How did skiing benefit these communities?
    • According to the Nat Geo magazine article, “[W]hoever first strapped on a pair of skis likely did so to hunt animals.” Skiing allowed hunters greater speed and maneuverability in the snowy landscape.
  • What signs do Tuvan trackers use to track elk in the mountains? Do you think these are the same clues used by ancient ski-hunters in Scandinavia?
    • Hunters or trackers in both communities had to be acutely aware of the ecosystem, and minute changes in the environment. According to the Nat Geo magazine article, Tuvan trackers first look for elk tracks and disturbances to the landscape, such as branches broken by antlers or shallow depressions (wallows) caused by elk rolling in the mud. These clues lead them to urination patterns and droppings (scat). From these signs, the expert trackers are able to identify the elk herd as two bulls, a cow, and a male calf.
  • Besides humans, the other apex predator in the Tuvan landscape is the wolf. (Read the article for an account of a stranded motorcyclist’s grisly death-by-wolf-pack.) What predators do you think competed with Scandinavian hunters?
    • Wolves, wolverines, and bears, Europe’s largest apex predators, are all indigenous to Scandinavia.
  • Read our very short media spotlight “Ski Cross,” which offers some fast facts on the historic sport of skiing. One of the fast facts says that the earliest evidence of skis in North America dates to about 1010 in Greenland. Greenland natives do not have a history of skiing—they traditionally use dogsleds, not skis, for hunting. How do you think skiing technology was introduced to North America?
    • Archaeologists and historians think that Scandinavian settlers to Greenland introduced the concept of skiing, and the 1010 ski artifact was left by these Norse immigrants.

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