Skis predate the invention of the wheel (for obvious reasons) with depictions as far back as 6000 BC. The first cambered skis, however, didn’t hit the scene until the mid-1800’s. At the time, skiing was a means of transacting the snow-scape but in the 1860’s we find the first evidence of a particularly voracious group of Norwegians who applied the tool to a high-angle environment and made the first dynamically flowing turns.
It’s all downhill from there, over the next 50 years the passion of sliding down snowy slopes on a pair of sticks spread throughout the world. Accounts of pioneering shredders can be found in almost every old time establishment that gets snow and has hills. The notion was enthusiastically embraced by mountaineers in the nations that share the European Alps, where large populations have resided among the mountains for generations, but early photographs articulate that the reach extended globally from the Andes in South America, to Japan in the far East. To the wild North of Alaska, the snow rich regions of the PNW, Tahoe, Utah, and Colorado, and even stretching to the desert mountains in New Mexico and Arizona. Indeed, by the early 20th century any Jimmy with enough time to plane and shape a cuppla planks was putting ‘em to work every winter picking lines on the local hills. A stoke driven arms race developed from technological innovation that enabled more aggressive riding, that in turn fueled the demand for better safety and more innovation. Searchers pushed harder, went further, climbed higher, and got sendy-er. The first Winter Olympics at Chamonix in 1924 featured five ski based events (of twelve total), affirming that the pastime was here to stay.
Skiing played a significant role in Finland in early World War 2. Based off this success, the U.S. military constituted the 10th Mountain Division, a ski-based light Army unit that recruited with the National Ski Patrol and laid the groundwork for the modern day Special Forces. After the war, skiing became America’s favorite way to explore the wintertime outdoors and Warren Miller, a photo journalist/cultural commentator, began his life’s work of video documenting and sharing the evolution of the ride.
The early 70’s saw the arrival of competitive bump skiing and our first real anti-hero Glen Plake, challenging the established king, downhill racing. Then just before the new decade the true dark horse made its debut, snowboarding. Like a revolutionary challenging the status quo, snowboarding was shunned by the greater industry who simply could not be tainted by these dirty, Satan-worshiping, freaks who take the ride from the side. Meanwhile the same industry choads were trying to make ski ballet happen (not that there’s anything wrong with ski ballet… but you can’t just make it happen, Gretchen!).
In the early 90’s freeride and extreme skiing would be born from the same tradition as the early skiers. Men and women like Doug Coumbs, John and Karen (Davey Stewart) McCune, Seth Morrison, and Dean Cummings were taking what they knew to the wildest arenas and going bigger. Progression was methodical, rhythmic, and calculated like jump turns down a steep pitch but even still, it peaked. In the late 90’s snowboarding established itself with a legitimate claim as the superior tool for slaying the ungroomed big mountain arena. Shane McConkey reopened the door for skiers when he was filmed shrapling the mountains surrounding Thompson Pass, AK on a pair of water skis.
The next generation of skiers, embraced the shorter, wider parabolic ski and the freestyle riding approach, both innovations catalyzed by snowboarding. This led to a new wave of creativity and reignited progression. The early 2000’s saw the rise and proliferation of the X-games (park and freestyle) and the emergence of the dual-discipline Freeride World Tour, which
began as a snowboard exclusive big mountain event in Verbier, France. In the past 10 years, further equipment innovations for both skiing and snowboarding have enabled renewed interest in self-propelled backcountry touring. Modern riders push the bounds of access and creativity in every snow (-optional if you’re Candide Thovex) environment from the urban downtown to remote wilderness. In the modern pandemic era when everything is striving to redefine itself the only question that remains is what kind of strange lines will the future bring? Unofficial Networks wants to hear what you think, comment your favorite way(s) to ride and tag the strangest rider you know.
– A Short History of Skis | International Skiing History Association
– Echo of the Peaks: An Early History of Skiing in Northern Arizona – YouTube