Today, most skiers are able to traverse the piste with ease using the latest in skiing technology. Made with a range of light and flexible yet durable materials including carbon fibre, aluminium and plywood, they’re pretty light and thin, making them easy to carry around before you’re ready to launch yourself down the mountainside, but where did it all begin?
We’ve been lucky enough to try our hands at skiing in a few places around the world, but nowadays the style and construction of the skis don’t change very much, no matter where you are. The basic side cut design with beveled chambers and a lifted tip is now typical of skis worldwide. But skis haven’t always been this universal.
Skis actually date back more than five millennia ago. The oldest wooden skis found were in Russia (ca. 6300-5000 BC), Sweden (ca. 5200 BC) and Norway (ca. 3200 BC) respectively, but the origin of skis as we know them today lie in the middle of the 19th century when skiing began to gain popularity among the people of Scandinavia, the Alps and parts of the US and Canada. At that time, skiing was one of the few ways to get around effectively, especially in remote snowy areas.
Around 1850, skis were made with camber and took on a bow shape. Carved in Norway, they were arched in the middle to help distribute weight more evenly and were thinner than the older models, but didn’t sink as easily after prolonged use. Later on that century, the Telemark ski incorporated a side cut that narrowed skis underfoot, thereby allowing for easier movement and improved grip.
Towards the start of the 20th century, hickory was used to make skis and was easier to carve with modern tools. It was more durable and was less prone to going soft after a long session on the slopes. Also, laminated two-layer skis were made with tougher bases made from hickory and lighter bodies on top; they helped to provide a template for ski design over the coming decades.
Steel edges were used early on in the 20th century to try and help cut through hard snow. However, the material used to hold the steel to the skis themselves wasn’t strong enough, but in 1928, aluminium skis were prototyped. Three-layer laminated skis were finally perfected in 1932, held together by waterproof glue.
Towards 1990, a range of materials were used to make skis easier to use, even in harsh conditions. Carbon fibre, Metallite (an aluminium base with a plywood core) and plastic were used together to create a ski that was made to last. Steel skis were first made in 1989, but sales failed to take off. Eventually, carbon fibre became the predominant material used for skis.
A super-thin future
According to a blog post from Inghams, the future could see skis become even lighter and thinner than they are today.
“In the years to come, I think that skis will fundamentally keep the same basic shape, because it’s what people are used to. Micro brands such as Zai give us a clue as to where ski design could be going, with models like the Nezza, which suggests that we could start to see super-strong skeletal shapes for piste, and ultra-thin powder skis for off-piste adventure”, it read.
They added: “Where I see the things changing is the advancement of new materials and digital integration. Ultimately, as material and production costs come down and the technology is perfected, it will be widely introduced into the mainstream.”
What is your desired ski design? Where are your favourite slopes to ski down? Tell us below.