Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The History of Skiing: New Books Gives Comprehensive History

My father-in-law is a ski history nut. He can name nearly every World Cup downhill champion of the past 30 years. On his living room bookshelf you will find copies of Ski Racing magazine stretching back to the early 1980s.

The man is going to love Two Planks and a Passion: The Dramatic History of Skiing,Roland Huntford's history of skiing. It's a deep trove of exactly the kinds of minutiae that will stick in his brain the way baseball statistics stick in mine. For the rest of us, though, Two Planks and a Passionis the sort of facts-and-dates history that keeps us from reading, well, history.
The Dramatic History of Skiing
In his earlier books, Huntford chronicled the race to the South Pole (The Last Place on Earth) and wrote biographies of Ernest Shackleton and Fridtjof Nansen. Two Planks and a Passionseems a natural progression for him. After all, hearty dogs and good skis made the difference for Roald Amundsen in his bid for the South Pole. But the earlier books were filled with tales of derring-do, and Two Planks and a Passionseems overwhelmed by Huntford's research. Somewhere along the way he abandoned his duty to include gripping stories and just started packing in trivia.

That's a shame, because there's great material here. For instance:

  • The ski predates the wheel.
  • The earliest known fragments, circa 6000 B.C., come from northern Russia, and archaeologists have unearthed evidence of skiing in Norway, Sweden and Finland dated to 3200 B.C.

Huntford reproduces a 4,000-year-old rock drawing from Russia that depicts three Stone Age hunters on skis stalking elk. It's an astonishing image, like seeing a stick figure on a Jet Ski in the caves of Lascaux.

"To prehistoric northern man, the ski was an instrument of survival," Huntford writes. "He needed good sliding, preferably without any slip on the kickoff, to overtake his prey."

In the ancient world, the ski was known across Northern Europe and Asia - though not North America, curiously - and the Lapps and the Norse were the acknowledged masters of the pursuit.

Read more on the History of Skiing here.

No comments:

Post a Comment