Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project Home

I. William Berry - America's Ski Book

Chapter 2 - How It All Started

p. 15: Skis found in Finland and Sweden are 4,500 to 5,000 years old. A rock carving of a skier on the island of Rodoy, Norway is estimated to be 4,000 years old. The 4,500 year-old Hoting ski from Sweden is constructed much like a snowshoe, while the 2,500 year-old Ovrebo ski from Norway resembles a modern ski with a turned-up, pointed tip. The Sagas, the classic literature of the Viking period around 1,000 A.D., are among the earliest written records of skiing.

p. 16: The Birkebeiner race in Norway commemorates the rescue of the infant royal son, Haakon Haakonson, in 1206 by two scouts on skis. The Vasaloppet in Sweden commemorates the return of King Gustav Vasa to fight the Danes in 1521. In 1721, a ski company was formed in the Norwegian army. These soldiers were the first to use a leather strap around their heel, in addition to the toe strap. They carried a single pole for pushing on flat ground. Skis of different length (one for pushing, one for gliding) were common in those days.

p. 18: Late in the stick-riding era, Norwegian miners brought skiing to the United States. "Snowshoe" Thompson, born Jon Thoresen Rue, began carrying mail over the Sierra Nevada in 1856. During the Civil War years, he was the only midwinter postal connection between California and the Union. Miners in La Porte and other mountain towns organized ski races in the 1860s. Sierra skiing waned with the mines after 1875. In 1938 a match race was held between the best of the new generation of California skiers and the few "snowshoeing" old-timers left in La Porte. Using skis and a "dope" formula dating back sixty years, Ab Gould, then in his seventies, had no trouble defeating the youngsters.

p. 21: In 1888, Fridtjof Nansen and party crossed the Greenland ice cap in forty-three days. The publication of his book Crossing Greenland on Skis in 1890 inspired mountaineers in every alpine country to experiment with skis.

p. 22: Sondre Norheim was the father of "modern" skiing. In the early 1800s he fashioned combination toe-and-heel bindings from twisted birch root, wet-formed to shape, dried and drawn tight. These stiff bindings gave him unprecedented control of his skis. Norheim developed a turn with the inside ski in a half-plow position. To make the skis turn better, he made the tips broader than the tails and gave the ski side-cut. In 1850 he was the first man to do a parallel turn. In 1901 the first ski-jumping rules committee gave the turns names: telemark for the half-plow turn and christiania for the parallel turn. According to the author, slalom means "slope ski-track" in the dialect of the Telemark region. In 1894 another Norwegian, Fritz Huitfeldt, improved bindings with the invention of toe irons.

p. 23: In the 1890s in Austria, Mathias Zdarsky developed a systematic ski technique independent of the Norwegian methods. He based his technique on the use of stemmed skis and a single pole. Colonel Georg Bilgeri, an Austrian army officer, evolved at almost the same time his own system based on two poles and a much wider stem. The author writes: "What tends to be that all these pioneers considered skis as a means to move about in the mountains in winter. Bilgeri, and to a lesser extent, Zdarsky, maintained that the day's sport was the climb--not the downhill rush. Both stressed the danger of rapid descent and, rightly, the need for safety." Despite these limitations, all but the most difficult Alpine peaks were climbed on skis before World War I.

p. 24: Shortly after he began teaching, Hannes Schneider told a companion, "I am going to put speed into everyone's skiing. And I am going to make it reasonably safe. It's speed, not touring, that is the lure." Schneider's Arlberg system was based on a crouch to lower the center of gravity and refinements to the stem christiania to reduce the stemming until the skis were almost parallel throughout the turn. With Dr. Arnold Fanck, he pioneered ski movies that converted thousands to the sport.

p. 25: Skiing became increasingly organized in the U.S. as Norwegian jumping clubs formed in the midwest in the 1880s and 1890s. In 1904, these clubs joined into the National Ski Association. In 1909 the Dartmouth Outing Club was formed, and started the growth of college ski organizations, especially on the east coast. Otto Schniebs became the Dartmouth ski coach around 1930 and spread the message: "Skiing is a way of life." In 1928, the first Arlberg-Kandahar race was held, originated by Arnold Lunn of England. The author writes that the invention of the steel edge in 1928 by Rudolf Lettner of Austria was probably one of the most important developments in ski equipment.

Chapter 3 - The Thundering Thirties: The Pioneer Period

p. 31: This chapter describes the development of ski lifts and advances in equipment and technique during the 1930s. With lifts there was no need to leave the heel free for walking. The Kandahar cable binding provided "down-pull" which gave unprecedented control. Boots got stiffer, and the author writes, "The Scandinavian skier of a century or more ago would have had no difficulty in recognizing the functions of the various items of equipment used by skiers in 1930. But just ten years later, he would hardly have understood any of it without considerable explanation."

Chapter 4 - The War and the Postwar Golden Age of Skiing

p. 40: Photo of Colonel Rolfe of the 10th Mountain Division and "Minnie" Dole on Mt Rainier. Another photo shows a large number of 10th Mountain Division men in whites setting out from the Paradise Inn on skis.

p. 41: This chapter has a brief summary of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Following the war one could buy a complete package of army surplus ski gear for $25. There were fairly minor changes in equipment and techniques initially, but a marked growth in popular acceptance of the sport. This chapter traces developments through the 1960s.

Chapter 5 - The Environmental Era

p. 50: The author rails against the constraints placed on ski area development in the 1970s and 1980s, while acknowledging that environmental concerns forced developers to mature and become more responsible. He mentions the energy crisis and liability crunch of the 1970s.

Return to the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project home page

Copyright © 2002 Lowell Skoog. All Rights Reserved.
Last Updated: Thu Mar 6 12:34:05 PST 2003