December 19, 2013 / Comments (0)

Skiing: A Sport Thousands of Years in the Making

It turns out that humans may have started skiing before they invented the wheel.

A fascinating new story from National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins and photographer Jonas Bendiksen follows a clan of Tuvan skier-hunters in the Altay Mountains who trace their skiing heritage back as far as 5,000 years.

They cut their skis from red spruce, bend them by heating them and steaming them, and nail horse hair on the bottom for natural skins, and they ski downhill with just one extra-long pole, as did many of the first skiers to descend from the summit of Mount Hood.

The Tuvan people live in remote Chinese mountains near the borders of Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan, and they travel for days on skis, tracking elk through the deep snow and sleeping by a fire at night in subzero temperatures. When they catch up to the animals they ski up and capture them with lassos.

Here is how Jenkins describes the scene as he sets out with the Tuvans to hunt elk:

“Each man has a knife tucked into his belt, a lariat of horse mane looped over his shoulders, and is pulling a goatskin sled with provisions: a horsehair blanket, a surplus Chinese army overcoat, and fried bread. The rest of the gear—two axes, a billycan, five chipped china bowls, a tin kettle, and a slab of horseflesh—is divided evenly. They don’t know how long we will be out. It is common to track elk for several days deep into the mountains.”

I won’t give away what happens to the elk this particular group of hunters catches, nor will I spoil the story by leaking what allegedly happened to the guy who burned his motorcycle to keep the wolves from attacking him.

If you want the details, check out the full story, titled First Skiers. It has typically amazing National Geographic photographs, and Jenkins is a gifted story-teller. Click here to read it.

Last modified: December 19, 2013

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