1 History of Skiing and Snowboarding

History of Skiing

Skiing was a prehistoric activity; the oldest known skis date to between 8000 and 7000 before common era (bce) and were discovered in Russia. Early skis have been found in many areas of northern Europe: a 4,000-year-old rock carving depicting skis was found near the Arctic Circle in Norway and hundreds of ski fragments that are 1,000 to 3,500 years old have been found in bogs in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Some of the first skis were short and broad, resembling snowshoes more than modern skis.

Skiing was not confined to Europe, though, as the first written references to skiing are from the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce) and describe skiing in northern China. Many people who lived in climates with snow for many months of the year developed some form of skiing. The Sami (Lapps) believed themselves to be the inventors of skiing, and their use of skis for hunting was renowned from Roman times. In addition, the Vikings used skis from the 9th to the 11th century. Skis are still occasionally used for travel in rural areas of Russia and the Scandinavian countries.

Skiing has also been employed for a long period of time for military purposes:

  • Norwegian men on skis did reconnaissance before the Battle of Oslo (1200)
  • Ski troops were used in Sweden in 1452
  • From the 15th to the 17th century skis were used in warfare in Finland, Norway, Russia, Poland, and Sweden
  • Captain Jens Emmahusen wrote the first skiing manual for Norwegians in 1733
  • Since 1767 there have been military ski competitions with monetary prizes. These competitions may have been the forerunner of biathlons, which combine skiing and target shooting.
  • Military skiing continued into the 20th century where snow conditions and terrain favored their use for scouts and for a type of mounted infantry with a first-strike advantage against small objectives
  • Ski troops fought in both World War I and World War II
  • Many veterans, especially of World War II, were very active in promoting the sport of skiing after returning to civilian life

Evolution of Skiing

Skiing both as recreation and as a sport was a natural development from its utilitarian applications. Before the mid-19th century, skiing was limited by the primitive bindings that attached the ski to the boot only at the toe, which made it all but impossible to ski downhill on steep slopes or slopes that required any significant maneuvering. Early skis designed for sport and recreation were made from one piece of wood, often hickory, but laminated constructions began to be used in the 1930s. In the 1950s plastic running surfaces on the bottom of skis increased their speed and durability. By the 1990s skis were typically made by surrounding a foam core with wood, wrapping both layers with fiberglass combined with Kevlar, aluminum, titanium, or carbon for strength, and finally adding a plastic base. As early as the 19th century, Norwegians and others had designed skis with sides that curved up to form parabolic profiles when seen from an end. Parabolic skis began to be widely used in the 1990s and are now standard for all Alpine skis. The unique shape of parabolic skis allows novices and intermediate skiers to master difficult turns more easily.

Primitive Skis. Attribution: Valugi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


At first, Alpine skiers had to ascend on foot to a height before being able to ski down, which severely limited the number of downhill runs skiers could make in a day, even if they had the energy to keep climbing back up the slope. This changed with the introduction of a succession of devices in the 1930s – from rope tows to chairlifts and gondola lifts – that eliminated exhausting climbs up the slope and made it possible for one to ski downhill four to five times more in a day than earlier skiers could manage. Another factor that contributed to the spread of skiing was the introduction during the late 1950s of snow making machines, which guaranteed adequate snow when the weather was uncooperative.




History of Snowboarding

Modern snowboarding was developed in the United States in the 1960s, inspired by skateboarding, sledding, surfing, and skiing. The first snowboard protype (called the snurfer, a term that combines snow and surfer) was developed in 1965 by Sherman Poppen. Poppen’s initial prototype was a simple design: two skis that were cross-braced together. Over the next decade, various pioneers boosted the production of boards, and the sport began to gain crossover appeal.


Modern snowboarding was pioneered by Tom Sims and Jake Burton Carpenter, with commercial snowboards being produced starting in the mid-1970s. The sport grew in popularity in the 1980s and became an Olympic sport in 1998. Initially, ski areas adopted the sport at a much slower pace than the winter sports public. In 1985, only 7% of U.S. ski areas allowed snowboarding.


As equipment and skills improved, gradually snowboarding became more accepted. In 1990, most major ski areas had separate slopes for snowboarders. Now, approximately 97% of all ski areas in North America and Europe allow snowboarding, and more than half have jumps, rails and half pipes.


The sport has even developed its own culture with defined ski and snowboarding terms such as pow which is the slang term for fresh powder or fresh snow. (Additional snowboarding terms can be found at: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/snowboarding-glossary.html). Snowboarding maintained popularity into the 2000’s as new Olympic events were introduced and more snowboard brands emerged. Each brand has established their own technology, shapes and styles of snowboards for every type of rider.


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. (2023, August 28). Skiing. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/sports/skiing
  2. Free The Powder Gloves. (n.d.). History of skiing. https://www.freethepowder.com/pages/history-of-skiing
  3. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, May 14). History of skiing. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_skiing
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. (2023a, July 13). Snowboarding. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/sports/snowboarding
  5. History of snowboarding: Through the years. Red Bull. (n.d.). https://www.redbull.com/us-en/history-of-snowboarding
  6. Snowboard equipment and history”. International Olympic Committee. 2015. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  7. Snowboard: Olympic history, rules, latest updates and upcoming events … (n.d.). https://olympics.com/en/sports/snowboard/
  8. Wikimedia Foundation. (2023b, August 28). Snowboarding. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowboarding


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Skiing and Snowboarding Copyright © by Dr. Renee Harrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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