February 05, 2007
A new birthplace for skiing?
My readers who are familiar with Central Asia (the both of youse) may enjoy this news.
Stranded in the customer lounge of the Jeep dealership last Friday while M's TJ was undergoing a facial, Swedish massage, and mud bath (Jeeps love mud baths), I read an interesting item in one of last year's issues of Skiing magazine.
The oldest archaeological evidence for skiing comes not from Scandinavia but from the Altai Mountains, where China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan meet.
Stone Age cliff paintings found in the Altai range in northwest China that date back to about 8000 B.C. are the latest proof that skiing got its start in central Asia. And even though the paintings, which depict hunters using primitive skis, are 10,000 years old, not much has changed in the Altais: Nestled in valleys ringed by 14,000-foot peaks, a handful of tribes are still using what looks to be the same ancient skiing technology.
The indigenous, nomadic Altai people have had minimal contact with their ethnic-Chinese neighbors until very recently, and even less exposure to the West (thus no P-tex or dorky Austrian graphics). In turn, they have maintained traditional lifestyles, living in log houses and yurts, tending livestock—and slapping on eight-foot-long, five-inch-wide wooden boards when the snow flies.
Since I doubt that there was a Mongolia-Finland trade route, I suspect that Scandinavian skiing, which goes back at least four millennia and maybe more, was an independent invention.
In Colorado, however, we assume that skiing was invented by the 10th Mountain Division.