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Norwegians are born with skis on their feet

Published: January 3, 2018

You may have heard the old saying “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet” and wondered what the heck that means.  

To start off, modern skiing was invented in Norway.  While there is archaeological evidence of skis dating back to 6000 BCE in Russia and 10,000 year old paintings in China, what is recognized today as skiing comes from Scandinavia.  And that includes the word itself!  The word ‘ski’ comes from the Old Norse ‘skíð’, meaning ‘stick of wood’.  

The first evidence of skiing in Norway dates back to 5000 BCE, a carving that was found in Rødøy depicting a skier with one pole.  Then there is the first primitive ski found in Scandinavia which may date as far back as 4500 BCE.  Just three years ago, a ski with complete leather bindings was found on a glacier in the Reinheimen mountains in Norway that is about 1300 years old!

A runestone believed to depict Ullr

On top of the archaeological evidence of the use of skis in Scandinavia, there is cultural evidence.  Both Ullr and Skaði are described as hunting on skis in Norse mythology.  A saga from 950 CE describes King Haakon the Good sending out tax collectors on skis.  There are written historical records describing ski-warfare as well as laws referencing skiers dating to the 13th century.

Then, of course, there are the Birkebeiner.  The namesake of countless ski races around the world, the Birkebeiner were actually a group formed during the civil war era in Norway (1130-1240).  Remembered today for their successfully protecting the two-year old heir to the Norwegian throne, Haakon Haakonsson, the Birkebeiner are most often depicted skiing through the wilderness with birch (birke) bark on their legs (bein).

Modern skiing as a sport can be dated back to 1843 when the first public skiing competition was held in Tromsø.  Not even twenty years later, ski clubs began popping up all over Norway and the sport even began spreading globally as far as Australia and America.  In fact, the oldest American ski club still in existence is the Nansen Ski Club, named after Fridtjof Nansen.

Women from a skiing association around 1890.

Around 1850 the ski was reworked by artisans in Telemark.  The cambered ski varies from its predecessor by arching up in the middle under the binding and being narrower in the area under the boot as well.  This redesign allowed skis to be lighter and have more flex making turning easier.  On top of that, many improvements to boots, binding, and ski grip were made by Norwegians (as well as others) over the next few decades.

Fast-forward to 1924 and Nordic skiing makes its debut as an Olympic sport at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France.  At those games, Norway was the leader in total medals with 17 (tieing for most gold medals with Finland with 4 each, most silver medals with 7, and most bronze medals with 6).  All four of their gold medals came from skiing events, three of which were won by Thorleif Haug who swept the Nordic skiing events.

Norwegian women sweep the podium in the 30K race in Sochi

To this day, Norway leads the total medal count at the Winter Olympics with 329 (the USA is in second place with 282... with a population over 64 times that of Norway!).  Of those, 239 are from a skiing sport (plus 4 for snowboarding).  As for individual events, Norway also leads the medal count in both cross country skiing (with 107 total medals) and Nordic combined (30 total medals).

Even if they aren’t up to skiing in the Olympics, most Norwegians are capable of holding their own on the slopes.  Family ski trips are a regular occurrence which means even the littlest ones are enjoying the fresh powder.  Skis on toddlers and even strollers are a common sight in birthplace of skiing.  So while Norwegians clearly aren’t born with skis on their feet, they may enjoy their first ski trip at just a few weeks old.  

So what are you waiting for?!  Today is the perfect day to connect with your Norwegian cousins and go skiing!