A History of Skis

After the last ice age, Stone Age hunters began strapping long pieces of wood to their feet to travel farther and faster over snow in pursuit of the game that flourished across Europe and Asia. Adaptations for terrain and snow conditions influenced the design of the skis in different regions.

Altay, China
Altay skis are long by modern standards. Skiers use a single pole to aid balance. Some Chinese academics say the earliest Altay skis date back to 8000 B.C., but other scholars say skiing came to the region much later.

Altay skis
The bottoms are covered with horsehide. In the past the hide was laced on; now it is tacked in place.

The grain of the horsehair is aligned so it digs into the snow as the skier climbs but glides on descents.

Vis, Russia
The oldest ski found to date has an elk head carved on one end that may have functioned as a brake.

Kalvträsk, Sweden
A long pole with a scoop carved into one end likely served several purposes: steering downhill, shoveling, and as a club for hunting.

Kinnula, Finland
Shorter and wider, this intricately carved ski worked well on soft snow in forest terrain.

Skiers glided on one long smooth board coated with tar and pushed forward on a shorter, fur-bottomed one.

Telemark, Norway
Foreshadowing modern designs, the shape of these skis, wider at the ends and narrow in the middle, improved control and turning.

Sierra Nevada, United States
Initially American miners used 10-foot skis to travel in the mountains, and over time they began using longer skis to race each other.

Europe and U.S.
Skiing evolves as a leisure activity and sport. Hickory and ash skis are the primary equipment.

Skis continue to evolve, with lighter and stronger materials that increase speed and control.

8000 B.C.
6000 B.C.
3200 B.C.
ca A.D. 750
ca 1600
ca 1800
ca 1860s
ca 1890s
Depictions based on archaeological and historical records
Fernando G. Baptista, Daniela Santamarina, and Matthew Twombly, NGM Staff; Debbie Gibbons, NG Maps; Patricia Healy. Art (Skis, above): Hernán Cañellas
Sources: E. John B. Allen; Esther Jacobson-Tepper; Nils Larsen; Jeff Leich