Alpine Skiing a Type of Sliding Downhill on Skis

alpine skiing

Alpine skiing is a means of sliding downhill on skis, controlling the speed and turning by using ski poles. It can be contrasted with cross-country skiing which involves hours of endurance training in the outdoors to develop muscle strength and stamina needed for poling, leg strength needed to support body weight, balance and agility necessary for manoeuvring around obstacles under variable snow conditions. Alpine ski instructors have come from this background of physical conditioning rather than formal language instruction.

Alpine skiing originate

A man riding skis down a snow covered mountain

There are many theories about when people first began sliding down hills in a controlled way on skis, but no one knows exactly who invented the sport or where it originated. Well-trod paths between villages were likely among the first places where skis were used since they provided a short track for practice.

The word “ski” was first mentioned in 1015 AD by King of Norway Olaf II who called upon men to collect firewood on skis. Although this reference is disputed as the earliest mention, it shows that skiing was established in Norway around the 11th century. The earliest Scandinavian ski finds are attributed to Styrbjörn the Strong of Sweden. A man counted among history’s greatest Viking heroes, Styrbjörn carried out daring feats of piracy and travelled widely throughout Europe. He spent much time-fighting in England with Canute (Knut), or Cnut, king of Denmark and England (also known as Canute the Great).

Styrbjörn brought a band of men back from one of his forays with several pairs of skis. In Norway, Snaefell Jokul — son and successor of King Olav — organised skiing contests more than a century before Canute ruled England. Through the years, Norwegians have looked upon skiing as a recreational sport and a practical means of transportation more than entertainment.

Historical background on Alpine skiing instruction

A view of a snow covered mountain

In 1843, Scandinavian settlers introduced skis to Cape Cod in Massachusetts after they had seen them used by Laplanders in Northern Europe. They quickly discovered that skis provided greater mobility in winter on the snow-covered landscape compared to snowshoes which were cumbersome when travelling over fields and hills. In 1886, Norwegian immigrant William Bache produced the first U.S. ski book, Ski-Running: A Practical Guide to Alpine Skiing as a Recreation for Health and Pleasure, which described Scandinavian skiing techniques of that time in detail.

Lavrans Solli’s “The National Sport of Norway,” written in English in 1896 (translated from the Norwegian text Skiløbning published by Johan Hohlenberg in 1865), was another early publication on skis that also provided some information on technique. Both Solli’s book and Bache’s manual are available through New England Ski Museum Society. There is no record of how these manuals were used on Cape Cod at that time either because there were few instructors or because there was limited demand for instruction.

Alpine Skiing and 1905

In 1905, after introducing skiing as a sport to his students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, John Winthrop Kearsley wrote The Book of Skiing. It is believed to be the earliest instructional book on skis by an American and it focused more on cross-country than downhill skiing. A manual produced by Switzerland’s leading ski authority, Karl Schranz, helped popularise Alpine skiing worldwide in 1955. For backcountry aficionados who had mastered diagonal striding with their skis during the 1930s, one of the first technical advances was heel hoeing which entailed traversing across slopes while leaning over on one heel edge and then switching to the other edge.

Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter
Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter