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The Culture and Sport of Skiing

The Culture and Sport of Skiing: From Antiquity to World War ll

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 384
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    The Culture and Sport of Skiing
    Book Description:

    A comprehensive history of skiing from its earliest origins to the outbreak of World War II, this book traces the transformation of what for centuries remained an exclusively utilitarian practice into the exhilarating modern sport we know today. E. John B. Allen places particular emphasis on the impact of culture on the development of skiing, from the influence of Norwegian nationalism to the role of the military in countries as far removed as Austria, India, and Japan. Although the focus is on Europe, Allen's analysis ranges all over the snowcovered world, from Algeria to China to Zakopane. He also discusses the participation of women and children in what for much of its history remained a maledominated sport. Of all the individuals who contributed to the modernization of skiing before World War II, Allen identifies three who were especially influential: Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, whose explorations on skis paradoxically inspired the idea of skiing as sport; Arnold Lunn of England, whose invention of downhill skiing and the slalom were foundations of the sport's globalization; and Hannes Schneider, whose teachings introduced both speed and safety into the sport. Underscoring the extent to which ancient ways persisted despite modernization, the book ends with the RussoFinnish War, a conflict in which the Finns, using equipment that would have been familiar a thousand years before, were able to maneuver in snow that had brought the mechanized Soviet army to a halt. More than fifty images not only illustrate this rich history but provide further opportunity for analysis of its cultural significance.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-060-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The present historical survey covers the period from antiquity to 1940. The ending date, at the beginning of the Second World War, is of importance for two reasons. One: the Russo-Finnish war was a winter war where simple, utilitarian skis, familiar to hunters a thousand years before, proved more successful than the technologically advanced Soviet tanks and artillery weapons. This mix of ancient and modern in military competition brings my history to a fitting end. Second: although the worldwide diffusion of skiing was starting here and there in the late nineteenth century, it remained largely a preoccupation of individuals and...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Archaeology and Myth
    (pp. 7-21)

    Skiing as we know it today has utilitarian origins dating back six thousand years, which gives it one of the longest histories of any sport. Prehistoric rock carvings in northern Norway and Russia depict skis as necessary for survival in lands that were covered for much of the year in snow. Our knowledge is further enhanced by fragments of skis and a few poles found in the bogs of Scandinavia and Russia. Documents in the form of reports, sagas, and illustrations add to the limited material. These sources provide a scant record for the beginnings of what became a worldwide...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Skis for a Purpose
    (pp. 22-35)

    Webbed snowshoes, ski-like sliding snowshoes, and skis were invented for the purpose of winter survival. In the preindustrial world, virtually no farming or field labor could be carried on in the depths of a snowy winter. To survive, people ate what they had in store. They also hunted game, but their difficulties increased in winter; birds and most animals had the advantage of flight and speed over the human hunter. To this day, in Canada, which is snowbound in winter, the snow-shoe remains the symbol of winter.

    Anthropologists have analyzed the varieties of snowshoes in the Arctic, in parts of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Norwegian Thrust
    (pp. 36-55)

    The Industrial Revolution changed the landscape, population, politics, and mores of Europe in the nineteenth century. From the Urals to Uruguay, from Kosciusko to Kobe, industrialization molded much of the world into its modern mode of work and play. It had a profound impact on skiing as well. The change in skiing was no sudden break, and it did not happen, as industrialization did not happen, at the same pace or time all over the world. What had been part of a folk winter culture became recreational enjoyment for urban civilization, although the utilitarian use of skis continued well into...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Fridtjof Nansen
    (pp. 56-69)

    Fridtjof Nansen’s great feat of crossing the southern third of Greenland on skis in 1888 was hardly utilitarian in the accepted sense of the word. Prior to his escapade, the usefulness of trudging through all that ice and snow was ridiculed in the press, as well as by that enigmatic genius, Knut Hamsun. Nansen was not from thebønder,but from well-connected Christiania circles, although the smart set never embraced him fully. Always “something of a soloist,” as a friend put it, Nansen wore his explorer’s outfit and wide-brimmed hat around town.

    Yet Nansen embodied a stark form ofIdræt....

  10. CHAPTER 5 Creating the Skisport
    (pp. 70-89)

    IfIdrætwas not for export, skiing was. However much Nansen may have inveighed against “sport,” when skiing ceased being utilitarian, when its cultural uses gave way to recreational entertainment, skisport became the new winter attraction among both the townsmen of Scandinavia and the landed wealthy and urban bourgeoisie of much of the rest of Europe. They modernized skiing, providing standardization of equipment, of competition, and of pleasure. This standardization, as Allen Guttmann showed in his influential 1978 analysis,From Ritual to Record,is the great mark of modernization.¹

    Ski meets in the nineteenth century often provided the opportunity for...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The English Play
    (pp. 90-106)

    The English had virtually begun, and then organized, modern sports. As with most sports, skiing started among the wealthy. It appealed to those whose public school (private school) backgrounds had brought them up to conquer their own fears and subdue other peoples and places far away. Skiing started its modern development during the imperial period.

    Organized sport was amateur in the very strictest sense, something one did because one loved to do it. The possibility of skiing in England and Scotland thrilled those who had not the time to journey to the Alps. Communities in Cumberland, Yorkshire, and Durham had...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The French Worry
    (pp. 107-121)

    While English society was relishing the snow in “Europe’s Playground,” to rephrase the title of Leslie Stephen’s well-known book on the Alps, the French took to skiing for rather different motives in the years running up to the First World War. Behind all the fun and games to be had on skis, upper-most in many French leaders’ minds was the effort “to regenerate the race after the humiliations and anguish of 1870” as well as the creation of military ski units for the defense of the mountainous frontiers.¹ Three problems became apparent. On a national level, worry was increased by...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Germans and Austrians Organize
    (pp. 122-139)

    France’s children were in training to halt the German foe again, the response to Germany’s increasing militancy. The French, and other powers, had taken note of the development in Germany of ski troops. What they did not know was the full extent of the German programs as troops on skis became part of the overall military thinking among certain members of the German military leadership. As it became increasingly obvious that Austria-Hungary would be Germany’s ally in any forthcoming war, neighboring powers also worried about the developments among the Emperor’s ski troops. Ski troops in all countries may have provided...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Ladies Ski
    (pp. 140-152)

    Women had used skis since the earliest times. One of Olaus Magnus’s woodcuts shows a woman speeding on skis, hair streaming out behind her, bow at the ready; another with her baby on her back sliding along on the way to church. Skis were utilitarian instruments for everyone. We know little enough about men’s skiing and even less about women’s. The Marquis de Regnard visiting the north in 1681 remarked that women were equally adroit on their skis when hunting as men were. Johann Gleditsch, about twenty years later, was also impressed with women’s expertise on skis. These two were...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Great War
    (pp. 153-163)

    Armies gave a panache to imperial parades where glittering uniforms were equated with military efficiency. In winter the ski troops of France, Italy, Germany, and Austria provided a thrilling spectacle as they joined in social skisport before the First World War. Yet military skiing should have owed little to the sporting activities. Ski troop leaders ordered forced marches through hilly terrain, which received wide publicity and provided proof of reliance and stamina. But there was a minimum of actual field training.

    When the war came in 1914, the mix of sporting skiing imbued with upper-class and nationalistic attitudes combined with...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Uneasy Peace—Les Années Folles
    (pp. 164-180)

    Recovering from the war meant economic rivalry among nations in every sphere. For Henry Cuënot, chairman of theClub Alpin Français’(CAF) Winter Sports Commission, it meant competition to attract winter sportsmen and -women to France. The Versailles Treaty was supposed to insure Germany’s lowly status; but even Germany might recover, especially as the neutrals, Switzerland and the Scandinavian states, rejected Germany’s ostracization from sporting events, and some monitored what was going on.¹ Even in France there were some people who were in favor of letting the Germans compete in sports. The majority of public opinion and all the politicians...

  17. CHAPTER 12 The Winter Olympic Games of Chamonix, St. Moritz, and Lake Placid
    (pp. 181-197)

    In the forty years before World War II, it was never absolutely clear that skiing would become part of the Olympic Games. Many reasons militated against inclusion. First, there were already two major skiing events, the Holmenkollen competition, held annually outside Oslo and frequently called “The Olympic Games of the North” or some such title, and theNordiska Spelen,run by the Swedes. The Norwegian event had started in 1879 on Huseby Hill and had taken place at Holmenkollen since 1892. TheNordiska Spelenran from 1901 to 1926. Skiing was Nordic only, yet “Alpine skiing,” meaning downhill and slalom,...

  18. CHAPTER 13 Europeans Abroad in the East
    (pp. 198-215)

    In the nineteenth century only a very few Central Europeans were on skis. They gained their knowledge, and often their equipment, from Scandinavia, especially from Norway. Norway was a poor country, and there was an exodus of educated and would-be educated, particularly missionaries, engineers, and students, to central Europe, to North and South America, to Africa and the East. The height of this emigration occurred when skiing was becoming a sport, taken up by the bourgeois. Skiing in Norway at the turn of the century was a mix of the old utilitarian business of getting about the countryside and a...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Europeans Abroad in the Americas
    (pp. 216-240)

    “Skiing is one of our foreign importations which is absolutely unobjectionable,”Leslie’s Weeklyinformed America’s middle-class readers in the winter of 1893.¹ Scandinavians, particularly Norwegians, had been the first on skis in the continental United States in 1841. From a midwestern base, they dominated American skiing with theirIdrætculture until well into the 1920s.² Having used skis as a means of locomotion for centuries, Scandinavians made a game and a sport of it. In the new country immigrant interest in racing across the countryside continued, but, increasingly, jumping from constructed towers became the centerpiece of most competitions. Urbanites were...

  20. CHAPTER 15 Skiing under Siege
    (pp. 241-259)

    The aristocracy of Europe delighted in skiing, perhaps to escape the horrifying thought of another war brewing. They might even meet Hjalmar Schacht or Albert Speer, two of Hitler’s top henchmen, on the slopes. Not the Führer though; he found skiing frivolous and dangerous.¹ The nearest he got to it was opening the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic Games of 1936 and having a photo op with locals on skis around Berchtesgaden. On the other hand, they might meet up with Mussolini, who liked to make everyone believe that he could ski well even though he never got the hang of putting his...

  21. CHAPTER 16 The Schneider Phenomenon
    (pp. 260-274)

    In the early morning hours of March 12, 1938, Austria’s most famous Alpine skier was ordered out of his home in St. Anton am Arlberg, leaving his wife and two children behind. He was taken with five others to the school and then to prison in Landeck. He remained there for twenty-five days before being permitted to go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen under a form of house arrest in the care of an old skiing competitor and friend, now lawyer, Dr. Karl Rösen. He was eventually allowed to leave Germany. The family was reunited in Munich before they took the train to...

  22. CHAPTER 17 The Russo-Finnish War
    (pp. 275-282)

    TheAnnées Folleshad really ended with the fascist domination of central Europe. For some, the Rome-Berlin axis provided a comforting barrier to any communist Soviet expansion. The appeasing West saw itself beset by ideologies of the far right and the far left, and America, isolationist anyway, was so far away.

    Hitler and Stalin teamed up in August of 1939 to the amazement of peoples and politicians alike. The fear for Poland consumed the British and the French. Negotiating with the Russians too, the Allies had taken note that the Russians still were thinking of Finland as part of the...

  23. Epilogue
    (pp. 283-292)

    Looking over skiing’s six-thousand-year history, I am struck by the immense time span during which skis were purely of utilitarian value. They were an essential part of the folk culture of snowy lands. The bog skis and their modern counterparts used right up into the 1930s by an occasional outdoorsman hunting deer or fox, were instruments of necessity, as were those of the Finnish troops who dealt death to the Soviet forces frozen in the Finnish woods. Skis over the millennia changed shape only slightly, and the single pole remained in use into the twentieth century. Bindings varied according to...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 293-372)
    (pp. 373-376)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 377-384)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 385-385)