Snow, Glorious Snow

MN-059Winter is coming. Although not snowing yet the change of seasons is becoming much more noticeable, so search out your skis, prepare your polyprops, and get ready to head to the hills.

Skiing is a great New Zealand pastime for many, and although it has only been enjoyed as a recreational sport for a relatively short time, skiing has been a mode of practical transport for much longer. A ski has been found in Russia dating to 6300–5000 BC. Norway has been home to a plethora of ski-related artefacts including carvings, cave paintings, and skis dating 5000–3200 BC. Other skis have been found in Sweden and Greenland, but not all evidence is restricted to the Scandinavian lands; a mosaic in Sicily dated to the 4th century AD shows a man wearing skis, possibly to take advantage of the slopes on nearby Mount Etna.

Skiing was initially used as a form of transportation, proving an easier way for people to travel over the white stuff rather than try to battle their way through it. Early Norse Mythology describes gods and goddesses hunting on skis. Other writings include descriptions of kings sending tax collectors on their rounds on skis (950 AD), the legal prohibition of skiers disturbing moose on private land (1274 AD), and records of the Dutch Army using ski warfare with their speed and travel distance compared to that of light cavalry (13th century AD).

W-SW-009For a long time, skis were made of wood and were designed for stability rather than speed. They were simple affairs: long, narrow planks of wood, sometimes bound in fur or horse hide, with the tip slightly curved up and strappings used to tie them on to the skier’s feet. The intention was to have the user glide over the snow rather than sink into it.

Skiing only gained in popularity as a recreational sport from the mid-19th century and the design of skis began to change to accommodate new demand. It was discovered that a cambered ski, arched up in the centre, helped to diffuse the weight of the skier. This allowed the ski to become thinner and lighter than the previous solid planks of wood, which not only made skiing faster and easier to manoeuvre but also helped to absorb shocks and make the ride smoother. This was soon followed by the addition of a sidecut where the ski is tapered in at the centre, allowing the ski to flex more and making turning even easier and quicker.

Leather and rubber ski boots, early 20th century.

Leather and rubber ski boots, early 20th century.

Wooden skis with metal boot holders, early 20th century

Wooden skis with metal boot holders, early 20th century

Bamboo ski poles, early 20th century.

Bamboo ski poles, early 20th century.

 

Innovations moved quickly after that: layers of different woods and materials, laminations, steel edgings, plastic bases, and developments in glues and wax all evolved in the first half of the twentieth century, and eventually skis of aluminium and fibreglass culminated in the skis we are more familiar with today.

The design of ski poles has largely stayed the same. In the early days of ski hunting, only one pole was used for balance and thrust while the other pole was sharpened and used as a spear. Now both poles are more commonly used to aid with balance, assist thrust, and provide a pivot point when turning. The early simple sticks were replaced by bamboo, then steel or aluminium in the 20th century. Now carbon fibre and composite materials are a popular choice.

A Unique Race. Bicycles fitted with a pair of small skis in lieu of wheels enabling competitors to gather great pace. There were four heats and two semi-finals in this race. The winner C. Beattie on extreme right. Photograph by Tesla Studios, unknown date.

A Unique Race. Bicycles fitted with a pair of small skis in lieu of wheels enabling competitors to gather great pace. There were four heats and two semi-finals in this race. The winner C. Beattie on extreme right.
Photograph by Tesla Studios, unknown date.

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