Has Extensive History
In the year 3000 B.C., in a land known as Scandinavia,
humans first glided across snow on boards. They had discovered a better
means of transportation — which we know today as cross country skiing.
In the beginning, cross country skis were just a crude
adaptation of the snowshoe. People soon discovered, however, that by
pushing off with a pole while on skis, it was possible to go faster and
farther. In the late 1500s, Finnish Lapp skiers were using 9- to 11-foot
skis, which glided with the help of a single, long, pushing pole.
In 1520, Gustavas Vasa skied 51 miles from Salan to
Mora, Sweden, to lead his countrymen to freedom against the Danish King,
Christian II. Today the Vasaloppet Race is an annual event in Sweden and
follows the exact same route as Vasa did.
The late Middle Ages saw important advancements in
cross country skiing. Hills and valleys, crevices and precipices, soft
snow, and hard snow have all influenced the development of equipment.
Whereas the long pole in Finland worked well on relatively flat surfaces,
the Norwegians developed baskets on the ends of their poles so as not to
sink into the soft deep snow. The Finns and Swedes built poles to contend
with crusted and windblown conditions. In Austria, the pole was used as a
brake while descending hills.
In the 19th century, the concept of braking was
popularized in America by John “Snowshoe” Thompson, who skied over the
Sierra Nevada Mountains to deliver mail in 1856. He accomplished the
90-mile journey in an average of three days and continued to deliver mail
this way for 20 years.
The late 1800s saw the beginning of a new development
in cross country skiing — it became a recreational activity. This occurred
with the invention of the first binding by Sondre Norheim of Telemark,
Norway. The binding allowed people to maneuver their skis with much more
control. It was mainly due to binding and boot development that alpine and
nordic skiing took different paths. Alpine boots were attached to the ski
at the heel, and nordic boots were free of the ski at the heel. In the
1930s, when alpine skiing became an Olympic event, the split was complete.
The 1920s and 1930s saw further evolution in cross
country skiing binding techniques, and the use of two poles increased in
popularity. In the Alps, shorter poles or “Swagger Sticks” were used for
going uphill, while the Finns and Swedes developed long poles with curved
spikes at the ends to better negotiate the flat, windblown, snowy terrain
of their homelands.
The outbreak of World War II called for armed
battalions on skis. The 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army trained
15,000 men for action in the Italian Dolomites in 1945. They underwent
specific training in skiing, mountaineering, and alpine survival
techniques at Camp Hale in Colorado. Today, the 10th Mountain Division
Trail in Colorado is a memorial to those men who served.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the Trapp Family Lodge in
Stowe, VT, introduced the concept of a “cross country ski area.” The sport
was still unrefined. The skis were wood, the boots leather, the poles
bamboo, and the clothing consisted of wool or blue jeans. It was not a
sport for the pampered and coddled. Trail grooming or maintenance, if any,
was done by snowmobile and homemade tracksetters.
Today, cross country skiing is much different. The
sport has several million adherents, of which a little more than half are
female. As an activity, nordic skiing is family-oriented and appeals to
people in their late 30s and beyond.
Extensive trail grooming is done at most cross country
ski centers, and many have introduced skating-only lanes which are
specifically groomed flat for cross country skiers enabling them to push
the skis to the side and glide, much like ice skating. Many facilities
offer the best of amenities from health clubs, sleigh rides, and guided
tours, to gourmet meals.
A recent revolution in equipment has brought to the
marketplace shorter, wider skis which are more manageable; boots that are
comfortable, functional, and colorful; and stylish clothing made from the
technologically advanced fabrics.
“Nothing hardens the muscles and makes the body so
strong and elastic,” wrote Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian Arctic explorer
who traveled across Greenland on cross country skis. “Nothing gives better
presence of mind and nimbleness; nothing steels the will power and
freshens the mind as cross country skiing. This is something that develops
not only the body but also the soul — it has a far deeper meaning for
people than many are aware of.”
Written in 1890, these words still hold true today in a
much faster paced world.