In the Altai mountains of northwestern China, prehistoric pictures carved in rock (petroglyphs) that show humans traveling over snow on skis are believed to be 10,000 years old, and the oldest written reference to skiing is from the writings of a Chinese scholar (The Hai New Jing) during the Western Han period of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD) describing how the people of the Altai mountains “sped like goats in the valleys and on the flatlands wearing the ‘horns of goats’ – a kind of knee high fur boot under which is bound a wooden board with a hoof-shaped front tip.”
Despite the early history in Asia, today’s modern skis actually evolved from Scandinavia, not China (in 2014, a 1,300 year old ski with leather bindings was found in Norway), and not until the mid-19th century did people start to enjoy skiing as a recreational sport, rather than strictly utilitarian purposes.
1849: First public ‘ski tour’ organized in Trondheim, Norway
1868: Winter train travel made mountain resorts commercially viable
1901: First skiing in the Pyrenees at La Llagonne, France
1910: First rope tow demonstrated at Truckee, California USA
1936: First chair lift introduced at Sun Valley, Idaho USA
1952: First large commercial snow-making machinery installed, Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, New York, USA
Ancient traditions of skiing are still evident today in the mountain region of northwest China, but seem likely to be lost to future generations, and the sport of skiing never gained popularity in China as in other parts of the world. That, however, is beginning to change as the country prepares for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The short documentary, China: A Skier’s Journey, from Jordan Manley, is an exploration of the past, present and future of skiing within the diverse cultures and terrain of China. Stunning mountain vistas and some gutsy backcountry runs, too.
Wikipedia: History of Skiing
“The Ancient Art of Skiing: A Chinese or Norwegian Invention? (Ultimate History Project website)
Watch more adventure skiing – A Skier’s Journey is a free-to-watch, on-demand video documentary series that follows adventure skiers as they travel the world, discovering great beauty and dangers in the mountains.
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Feature photo is a still shot from the film “China: A Skier’s Journey”