A couple of weeks ago, ski season began in upstate New York, which has resulted in a division of my loyalties. But it will pass eventually, and I will be back to posting costumes.
The word “ski” comes from the word “skid,” an Old Norse/English term for a split piece of word. Since Old Norse and Old English share at least one grandparent (there was a lot of inbreeding), we have the word in our language as well. Though our most common Modern English usage of the word is as a synonym for sliding, though with friction, it can also refer to a piece of wood on a “skid road,” or a piece of wood used to break a wheel. So it is appropriate that ski can be both a verb (friction stalling a sliding movement) or a noun (piece of wood, or modern piece of sports equipment).
That skiing developed at all was unlikely. I imagine some insane, sensitive, and oddly ambitious primitive mountain-dwelling Scandinavian getting the idea to use his rough-hewn snowshoes and poles to get to the bottom some clear-ish, icy slope. Perhaps it was the result of a dare, to impress a girl, and/or a result of a bit of frustration and energy-driven fun in the midst of some dark, bitterly cold winter.
Or there is the more epically sweeping and picturesque possibility that skiing developed in an older time, perhaps during the last Ice Age, when the world was frozen solid. The universality of the technology may have melted and died with the heat, but found a temporary safe haven and culture in the north of Europe, where it could survive long enough until the next Ice Age, or, even better, an Age of Plastic, Chair lifts, and Snow making machines that would make the good old-fashioned Ice Age look crude in comparison.
Skiing started to appear as a sport sometime in the 18th century, and then was codified and made salable by Sondre Nordheim of Telemark, Norway in the 19th. He was the first documented and deified ski bum in history, and I guess that should have some sort of cultural significance. He is credited with the introduction of heel bindings which ennabled the Telemark turn, where the skiier turns with a graceful geneflect, like waltzing over the snow. Supposedly before Nordheim, skiers stopped rather brutally with the pole between their legs. He is also credited with curving the skis.
When Sondre was skiing, there was no such thing as waterproof pants and plastic boots. He skiied on two pieces of wood with leather boots bound to them with ropes. His ankle and knee strength must have been supernatural. I recall the hundreds of tendus 19th century ballerinas were required to do daily to wear their insubstantial pointe shoes. Nordheim must have had a similar, though less formal regime to be able to ski without plastic and modern bindings.
I found a blog that has photos of 19th century skiing. Unfortunately, it is in some language that is not English (Spanish or Portugese). I can decipher enough of the post to understand that it basically discusses the history of skiing from the 4000 year-old cave drawings to the present. The photos are really outstanding, and demonstrate the length of the skis and use of the stick formerly used for stopping. And, lo, there are women in skirts and hats doing it, too! The top photo postcard is from Haute Savoie, not Norway.
I would imagine that it would be hard to stay modest while skiing in a bustle. A wipeout would be bizarre, and likely result in some interesting bruising and poking. I wonder what they would think if someone showed up all bustled-up at our local resort with skis, boots, and poles, with a season pass wrapped around velvet-clad arms? No.
It really is best for everyone that skiing and historical costuming don’t attend the same party.
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