The Origins of Skiing? | 8,000 Years Ago…

A Sea Sami man from Norway by Prince Roland Bonaparte in 1884
A Sea Sami man from Norway by Prince Roland Bonaparte in 1884

The exact origins of skiing are a bit murky, but one thing is clear.  Skiing was originally designed to create movement.  In ancient times, skiing was about getting from A to B on snow efficiently.  Walking in the deep snow was exhausting, snowshoes were OK, but skis were king.  The Sami people of Northern Scandinavia knew that skis were a superior form of snow transportation because their ancestors invented them and the Sami used them on a daily basis.  The Sami are widely credited with being the inventors of the ski.

Sami with crossbow and skiis. Samisk jeger med armbrøst på ski 1674
Sami with crossbow and skis. Samisk Jeger med armbrøst på ski 1674

The exact origin of the Sami culture is also unknown.  Historians have traced their lineage and language back to the Ural mountains, Europe, and deeper into Asia.  The Sami are even argued to be partially the “Eskimos” that went left to Scandinavia, instead of right to Alaska and Canada.  Regardless of their origin, the Sami bloodline is distinct from Scandinavian and European bloodlines.

This picture shows two Sami (Lap) men and a woman hunting on skis. Illustration is from a book by Olaus Magnus "Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus" (History of the Nordic Peoples), published in Rome 1555.
This picture shows two Sami men and a woman hunting on skis.
The illustration is from a book by Olaus Magnus “Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus” (History of the Nordic Peoples), published in Rome 1555.

“The genetic lineage of the Sami is unique, and may reflect an early history of geographic isolation, genetic drift, and genetic bottle-necking.” – wikipedia

These ‘Aboriginal Europeans’ followed the retreat of the last Ice Ages glaciers and spent a lot of time on ice and snow.  Perhaps more time than anyone in history. It was their massive amount of time on snow that lead them to the invention of the ski for hunting and transportation.

Samipeople_Lavvu_1900-1920
Samipeople_Lavvu_1900-1920

SKIING HISTORY 101:

  • 6300 BC: The world’s oldest skis were discovered in Russia, near Lake Sindor.
  • 4000 BC: Rock carvings of a skier from this period were discovered in Norway.
  • 3300 BC: Skis from this time period were discovered in Finland. They were 180 centimeters long and 15 centimeters wide. These skis had five grooves.
  • 2700 BC: Two skis and a pole were dug out of a bog in Sweden.
  • 2500 BC: Archaeologists discovered rock drawings that depict a man on skis holding a stick. The drawings were discovered on a Norwegian island.
  • 200 BC to 200 AD: First documented reference to skiing in China.
  • The word “ski” comes from the Old Norse word “skíð”, which means split piece of firewood.
Sami skier
Sami skier hunting

“The oldest information about skiing is based on archaeological evidence. A wooden ski dating from about 6300-5000 BC was found about 1,200 km northeast of Moscow at Lake Sindor. The Kalvträskskidan ski, found in Sweden dates to 3200 BC, and the Vefsn Nordland ski, found in Norway is dated to 5100 BC.  Rock drawings in Norway dated at 4000 BC[6] depict a man on skis holding a stick. A ski excavated in Greenland is dated to 1010.” – Wikipedia

sami skiing
Sami skiing

We still can’t be overly confident of our radio-dating techniques as there are still plenty of inaccuracies.  If the ski mentioned above is anywhere near 8,000 years old, we’re impressed.  This means that people were possibly charging around on skis in about 6300 B.C.  If this is true, then skiing is by far one of the oldest sports in existence, if not the oldest.  The Sami very well may have been out skiing around in the North before the Great Pyramids of Egypt were created (pyramids thought to be created around 3200 BC).

Sami ski boots in the Arctic Museum in Norway
Sami ski boots in the Arctic Museum in Norway

From the invention of skiing in ancient times to modern skiing, there is a myriad of interactions that take place.  Skis go from the Sami to the Scandinavians, to the Alps, to the British, to ski racing being started in California and Norway.  The amount of information is daunting.  For now, we should feel satisfied that we know where skiing first took sprout and grew.  In our next installment, we’ll explore how skiing morphed from being utilitarian to becoming purely recreational.

Copper etching (1767) by O.H. von Lode showing a noaidi with his meavrresgárri drum
Copper etching (1767) by O.H. von Lode showing a Noaidi (Sami Shaman) with his meavrresgárri drum