History of Downhill Skiing
Long before skiing was a sport, skis were actually utilized for both transportation and work alike. Located in Sweden, the oldest ski known to man is short, wide and believed to be around 4500 years old. However, ancient rock and cave drawings reveal that skis may have existed even earlier than 4500 years ago. Originally, travelers or hunters may have used skis since they were used quite commonly during the extended winter months in Scandinavia and Northern Russia. Speed was a non-issue when making the early designs of skis as they were needed more to keep people on the snows surface while they moved around and traveled.
When looking into the history of downhill skiing, peoples indigenous to the Telemark region of Norway were credited with, in the 1700’s, taking skiing and turning it into a sport. They also are credited with inventing both the Christie and the Telemark turns to control downhill descent speeds. And with a fondness of alpine ski jumping, these pioneers brought into existence the disciplines of Nordic and Alpine skiing. Of course the distinctions we make today between various skiing disciplines were not made hundreds of years ago. In fact, early renditions of skis simply had a boot which was secured to your ski at the toe area only, leaving your heel free to either move down or up. This is now what we call a Nordic style ski.
As you begin to look more closely into the history of downhill skiing, you will surely find that, in the 1800’s, the original organized jumping, skiing and cross country events took place. And into the 1900’s skiing began to flourish as the Norwegians neighbors, the Europeans, began to discover how enthralling skiing could be. During that time period, Nordic style equipment was still heavily used. This fact is highlighted in 1924 with the advent of the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France. The games only featured five sports while the two skiing events were Nordic. Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping. And in 1932, the Winter Olympic Games opened in Lake Placid, NY and featured Cross Country Skiing as a new Olympic sport.
And as skiers forged on and tackled ever more difficult terrain, their equipment and skill levels needed to adapt to these challenges. This is because turns like the Telemark were sufficient for Norway’s rolling, flat terrain but lacked the necessary control that is crucial for European slopes such as the Alps. Hence, this is how the idea of Alpine skiing was born. When reading about the history of downhill skiing, you will find that Alpine skiing equipment utilizes a boot which is mounted to a ski with both the heel and toe section of the boot attached to it. This provides the skier with more control in order to ski faster and negotiate steep terrain.
Slalom and downhill Alpine skiing came into being using this newer and more modern equipment. In fact, in the Winter Games in Austria in 1936, the first alpine skiing event was introduced to the Olympics. It was called the combined. Also during the period of the 30’s, Europeans took up alpine skiing and its popularity continued to steadily climb. During this time, the first ski lifts were constructed which cancelled out the physically draining task of climbing up a mountain before descending. After World War II, ski areas began to open up when Switzerland and Austria developed Alpine ski resorts.
In 1952 at the Oslo Winter Olympics, the new discipline dubbed Giant Slalom was debuted. The GS actually combined aspects form previous alpine skiing disciplines. And Super G, a Downhill and Giant Slalom hybrid, was the fourth alpine skiing discipline added to both the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and the 1983 World Cup events as well. Over this period of time, skiing equipment manufacturers have been developing safer, faster equipment as athletes have taken and combined the new equipment with a higher skill level and better training in order to improve all facets of this sport. As the debate continues on about which skiing discipline is the premiere one, we know one thing for sure. All styles of skiing are growing in popularity, and skiing can be enjoyable for an entire lifetime.