The history of Finnish skiing slips and slides.
we begin to think about strapping on our fancy ski boots and skis, let’s also
think about our northern heritage.
custom of the people of the North was to speed over the snow on extraordinary
implements unknown to others. Over one thousand years ago, the first dimension of Finnish
culture and heritage started with survival.
Hidden in the wilderness, the original Finns strapped onto their
hand-fashioned boots, little more than bowls as they moved cautiously over the
snow-covered landscape. During the
stone and iron ages, the men (Hiihtomiehet) were on skis during the
struggles between tribes and intruders.
his book, Winter in Finland, professor W. R. Mead wrote of Finland
and skis: "Historically, skis
are some of the oldest pieces of equipment found in the country."
Finland, some of the oldest artifacts discovered in bog lands (the peat bogs)
have been a variety of prehistoric skis in different parts of the country.
Pollen dating of peat at one of the oldest sites, at Kinnula, in the southern
province of Häme, gives an age of 4,000 years to the skis found there.
from the 6th century A.D., found in a peat bog in south-central Finland had a
raised footrest and were faced with skin, which prevented snow from sticking to
the ski, with a badger skin toe-strap.
Finnish word for ski is "suksi", probably of Uralic origin, which may
have evolved into the Scandinavian word "ski."
For English speakers, as professor Mead points out, the word was probably
first defined in Gustaf Widegren's Svenskt och Engelskt Lexicon (Swedish-English
Lexicon), published in Stockholm in 1788. "Skid: a kind of scate or wooden
shoe on which they slide over the snow..."
regional differences in ski shapes and names existed before the advent of mass
production. The small band of foreign travelers who wrote of their experiences
in Finland in the 19th century provide some of the sharpest observations of
skiing in its natural setting. Paul du Chaillu's description of skiing in
Finnish Lapland serves as a model for the rest of the country. Up in the north
he came across several types of ski or "the queer snowshoes of the
north." He saw "short ones used in the forest...where the trees are
close together; long ones, for use on soft snow "so that they can bear up
the weight of a man and not sink too deeply"; skis faced with sealskin,
"used in spring when the snow is soft and becomes watery; the skin prevents
the snow from sticking to the ski". Du Chaillu's reference to 'queer
snowshoes' may be misleading to today's reader. However, it is certain that he
means skis, not the snowshoes of the North American continent, which never
caught on in Finland.
the ski was a working aid and an important means of transport in Finland from
prehistoric times until the last quarter of the 19th century.
A local observer in the southern parish of Hauho wrote in the 1880s that
one seldom saw a ski except outside the huts of foresters, who used them for the
journey to and from work.
ingenuity of the Finns enlightenment shone as brightly as machine-honed
fiberglass skis by the end of this millennium.
a matter of necessity, toddlers learned to ski as they learned to crawl and
walk. School children skied
to school and home again, did their lessons and hopped back outside on skis.
They skied and played until they had to head for their warm log homes at
bedtime. Racing through the forests
of Finland was a part of daily winter life.
must be in the genes of the Finns. We
continue this heritage in America with our cross-country ski trails at Saima
Park. And we definitely still
enjoying strapping on those bowls – now fashioned of man-made materials and
designed to help us glide faster and faster.
(You can contact June Rantanen via e-mail, by clicking on
her name at the top of the page)
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