The cradle of skiing

In Norway the sport of skiing was a natural consequence of the country's mountainous topography and heavy winter snows. Modern skiing had its origins in the county of Telemark in the last century, but an ancient rock carving, at Rødøy in Nordland county, shows that Norwegians used skis as far back as 4000 years ago. The epic poems of Norse mythology frequently refer to Ull, the god of skiing and to Skade the goddess of skiing and hunting. The Icelander Snorre Sturlason (1179-1241) confirmed in his sagas of the Norwegian kings that skis were a normal means of locomotion in the winter, long before his time. He also relates that the Samis were skilful skiers.

It was the people of Telemark county in south Norway, headed by Sondre Norheim, who in the 1870s and 1880s revived interest in skiing as a sport. Sondre Norheim, born in the valley of Morgedal in 1825, ended 4,000 years of tradition by using stiff ski bindings. These enabled him to swing and jump without the risk of the skis falling off. He also designed a "waisted" ski, the Telemark ski, which is the prototype of all those now produced. Sondre Norheim was regarded by his contemporaries as an unparalleled master of the art of skiing. He combined ordinary skiing with jumping and slalom. During the first national cross-country ski race, held in Christiania (now Oslo), in 1867, his artistry amazed the inhabitants of the Norwegian capital.

Very few people are aware that the now international word slalom is a Norwegian word originating from Morgedal. Its first syllable, sla, means slope, hill or smooth surface and låm is the track down the slope. The normal slalåm was a cross-country run over fields, hills and stone walls, weaving among thickets.
In our own times this old sport from Telemark has gained its renaissance both as a competitor sport and as a popular leisure time activity among an increasing number of enthusiasts both in Europe and the USA.
Norway's polar explorers have made a significant contribution to national self-respect and pride in sport. In "The First Crossing of Greenland", Fridtjof Nansen wrote of his love of skiing, which he regarded as the most typically Norwegian of all sports. If anything deserves the name -- the sport of sports -- then it must indeed be this one, he said after he had skied across Greenland's icecap from east to west in 1888.
Some years later, Nansen set his sights on the North Pole. But he never reached it. Biting cold and difficult conditions on the ice forced him and his companion, Hjalmar Johansen, to turn in their tracks. Together they spent more than one year skiing across a wilderness of ice, totally isolated from the rest of the world.

Another daring journey was Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition in 1910-1912. Together with four other Norwegians, Amundsen planted the Norwegian flag at the South Pole in 1911, as the first man to reach this point. The five men covered a distance of about 3,000 kilometres on skis. Much of the equipment that Nansen and Amundsen used on their polar travels has been preserved for posterity and can now be viewed at the museum housing the polar ship "Fram" and the Ski Museum -- both in Oslo.

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Photo: Oslo Promotion/ Kristin Moe Kronh

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