the History of
It’s said about Norwegians that they are born with skis on. And for centuries, people’s lives in this country have been closely related to skiing – first as means of transportation – then, from the last part of the 19th century, as a leisure and sports activity. Later Norwegian students and emigrants introduced skiing at the European continent, the USA and in other countries. Skiing is Norway’s national sport.
The word “ski” is a Norwegian word which comes from the Old Norse word “skid”, a split length of wood. And we know that skis have been used in Norway for more than 4,000 years. Rock carvings from Northern Norway confirm this.
Skiing in Norway
There are reports about the use of skis among soldiers as far back in time as the Middle Ages. Companies of ski troops were formed around 1750. And the very first skiing competitions were held in the military in 1767.
One area where skiing became a real popular leisure activity, was the district of Telemark, Southern Norway. In the small rural communities, many of them located in deep valleys, conditions were excellent for having fun on skis.
In addition to excellent skiers, this community also had many craftsmen, fully capable of making skis and skiing related equipment. This explains why Morgedal became a place where people experimented with new types of skis and bindings, and where new ways of using the skis were developed. The skis and the bindings were crucial to innovation of new techniques.
The style and the technique which developed here from the 1850’s, and later was introduced in the capital Christiania (now Oslo), has become known all over the world as Telemark skiing. Also slalom originated in Telemark.
In 1866, Sondre was invited to participate in what has been described as the world’s first ski jumping competition with prizes, held at Ofte, Høydalsmo (15 kilometres west of Morgedal). There he won 1st prize, and also received an extra award for spectacular performance. This was the first competition where an audience outside Morgedal recognized Sondre’s skills as a skier.
From Morgedal to the
At Iversløkken Sondre demonstrated – for the first time outside Telemark – the Telemark turn and the turn which later (from 1901) has been called the Christiania turn. Sondre was using heel bindings, and he had shorter skis with curved sides. Other participants used the common toe bindings.
The performance at Iversløkken was a major breakthrough for Sondre and the new style of skiing. People were overwhelmed by this middle-aged man, the poor cotter from the countryside, demonstrating for everyone what an innovative ski artist he was – representing something totally new.
And when it comes to the bindings, there are reports about the use of willow heel bands many years before Sondre. But this was not frequently used among people in general. Normally the skis were connected to the foot by use of simple toe bindings, eventually also heel bands made of leather.
The Father of Modern Skiing
Sondre’s contribution – in short – can be expressed this way:
During the late 19th
century, as skiing changed its character from a method of transportation
into an enjoyable pastime and as a sports activity, the skiers who came in
to the capital from the countryside of Telemark, played a key role.
The competition held at Iversløkken, Christiania in 1868 is regarded as a turning point and the beginning of a new era – it was a breakthrough for skiing as a sport in the capital of Norway, and because of that, a breakthrough that had an effect in the whole nation as well as outside Norway.
Other skiers from Morgedal, such as the Mikkel and Torjus Hemmestveit brothers, continued to make the ski equipment and the Telemark style better known through competitions and by teaching people in the capital. In 1881, Mikkel and Torjus ran the world’s first ski school in Christiania. The heel bindings, the shorter, curved skis and the new turning techniques became accepted and more commonly used.
Telemark to the
The Hemmestveit brothers were among the many people from Telemark who immigrated to the United States by the late 19th century. They ran ski schools and won several competitions in their new homeland. In this way they made a major contribution in bringing the ski spirit from Morgedal to the world.
Skiers from Telemark
Two years earlier, Nansen wrote the following about the skiers from Telemark, “Telemark is the rightful home of skiing. The people of Telemark are unquestionably our country’s best skiers, and if they are the best in our country, I can doubtless say, without fear of exaggeration, that they are also the world’s best.”
“They have taught the townspeople a completely new way of skiing, and have thereby raised the art of skiing to the heights it has achieved in recent years. Telemark skiers truly deserve our respect and thanks”, Nansen wrote.
But the main focus, also when rules were made and competitions organized, was on slalom, downhill, cross-country and jumping. Telemark skiing was not a part of this, and for years the Telemark style was practised by a relatively small group of enthusiasts.
Stein Eriksen was born in Telemark, and in his book “Come ski with me” he also mentioned the Telemark turn and showed a picture of his father, Marius, demonstrating this way of turning.
Today Telemark skiing is popular both in Europe, USA and in other parts of the world. There are Telemark clubs in several countries. People take courses to learn the Telemark style – they are attracted by the opportunity to leave the crowded, prepared slopes, and run down a hillside in deep powder snow.
People find this way of skiing not only fun but filled with an exhilarating sense of freedom – just as Sondre did when he introduced the Telemark technique in the 1860’s. The skis have curved sides and the turning technique is the same as back then. But there is a big difference – the skis are not handmade of pine and the bindings are not made of willow...
the Telemark Ski
So by now, the only real difference between Telemark skiing and alpine skiing is the bindings and the way you turn. And – both turns originated in Telemark.
© 2002-2012 by Anne-Gry Blikom and Eivind Molde