Before it became a leisure activity and a competitive sport, skiing was first and foremost a means of transportation in Nordic countries, Siberia and in the mountains of central Asia.
Since then, the equipment has progressed massively: a ski is no longer a simple plank of wood, but a complex piece of equipment whose structure is studied and analysed down to the very last detail.
10 000 years ago - the forefather of skis
Dating back to more than 8 000 years B.C., the very first skis were found in Northern China. Made of wood, they were around 2 metres long and covered in horse hair.
Other skis dating back to around 6 300 J.-C. were also found in Russia, with a simple leather strap for bindings.
Many other discoveries made it clear that skis were used regularly right from these early days. They enabled users to move faster and more easily around territories that were often snow-covered for a large part of the year.
The beginnings of modern-day skiing
Modern skis, such as those used today, originate in Norway, where the first ski factory opened in 1886.
Recognised as specialists in the activity, Norwegians were the first to become international instructors in civil and military domains.
Two different ski techniques were developed and were named after the Norwegian mountains where they were invented: Christiania and Télémark.
The current form of Alpine skiing comes from the Christiania technique, which was easier and faster to master than the Télémark turns.
In France, the very first pair of manufactured skis, which were made of wood, was produced in 1893.
They were usually made from laminated timber beams with a layer of hickory (wood found in North America) or beechwood on the underside and a top layer of pinewood, basswood or a similar lightweight, soft wood along the entire length of the ski.
Although they were lightweight, these skis were very fragile because the glue used was soluble on contact with water. The skis became warped and the wood peeled after just a few days of use. From 1910 onwards, new glues were developed to make the skis more hardwearing.
1928 saw the arrival of the first metal edges, making skis therefore more hardwearing, with an increasingly accurate movement.
The arrival of new materials
Winter 1950 saw the launch of a new type of ski which not only resisted to the technical constraints put upon it, but also made it far easier to turn. Its plywood core was placed between two aluminium plates with plastic sidewalls and metal edges.
The 1960's saw the invention of stop-skis, reducing the number of accidents linked to the use of leashes (which were attached to the foot).
In 1964, Rossignol's Strato became the world's bestselling ski. This model was designed with a plywood core, layers of fibreglass and epoxy resin.
Assembly of all of the components, including the edges, was done during one mouding-casting process with a press. Skiers loved this narrow-waisted ski, which seemed to turn effortlessly.
In the 1970's and 80's the ski industry invested massively in improving materials and in developing new shock absorption technologies. Much focus was placed on the size of skis, correct location of bindings etc.
The mid 90's welcomed the carving technique and the hugely popular parabolic skis. At the same time, the first twin-tipped skis were perfected, offering more of a fun dimension to skiing - this was the start of freestyle skiing and snowparks.
From 2000 onwards, the shape of skis continued to evolve, with short and long, thin and fat skis offering the best sensations for every type of use: competition, carving, freeride, freestyle...
The very latest development is known as the «rocker» ; an innovation from the USA which involves rising the tip of the ski. It offers superior float in powder snow and increased ease of turn, whilst featuring a traditional «camber» to maintain a good edge contact on piste.
Nowadays, whilst most skis still have a wooden core, ski manufacturers continue to carry out research work and much emphasis is placed on nanomaterials and other composites.
I hope you found this article as interesting and informative as I did when writing it.
Please feel free to post a comment, share photos of your old skis as well as your memories and your vision of the skis of the future!