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The Culture and Sport of Skiing

From Antiquity to World War ll

E. John B. Allen

Publication Year: 2007

A comprehensive history of skiing from its earliest origins to the outbreak of World War II, this book traces the transformation of what for centuries remained an exclusively utilitarian practice into the exhilarating modern sport we know today. E. John B. Allen places particular emphasis on the impact of culture on the development of skiing, from the influence of Norwegian nationalism to the role of the military in countries as far removed as Austria, India, and Japan. Although the focus is on Europe, Allen's analysis ranges all over the snow-covered world, from Algeria to China to Zakopane. He also discusses the participation of women and children in what for much of its history remained a male-dominated sport. Of all the individuals who contributed to the modernization of skiing before World War II, Allen identifies three who were especially influential: Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, whose explorations on skis paradoxically inspired the idea of skiing as sport; Arnold Lunn of England, whose invention of downhill skiing and the slalom were foundations of the sport's globalization; and Hannes Schneider, whose teachings introduced both speed and safety into the sport. Underscoring the extent to which ancient ways persisted despite modernization, the book ends with the Russo-Finnish War, a conflict in which the Finns, using equipment that would have been familiar a thousand years before, were able to maneuver in snow that had brought the mechanized Soviet army to a halt. More than fifty images not only illustrate this rich history but provide further opportunity for analysis of its cultural significance.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book had its origins many years ago. On sabbatical leave from an American university in 1976, I left an Innsbruck exhibition of old skiing prints fascinated and determined to acquire some. Here was my sport depicted in a sixteenth-century Olaus Magnus woodcut with a man and a woman striding off to church, a couple of children on their backs and, in a quite extraordinary ...

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pp. 1-6

The present historical survey covers the period from antiquity to 1940. The ending date, at the beginning of the Second World War, is of importance for two reasons. One: the Russo- Finnish war was a winter war where simple, utilitarian skis, familiar to hunters a thousand years before, proved more successful than the technologically advanced Soviet tanks and ...

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Chapter 1. Archeology and Myth

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pp. 7-21

Skiing as we know it today has utilitarian origins dating back six thousand years, which gives it one of the longest histories of any sport. Prehistoric rock carvings in northern Norway and Russia depict skis as necessary for survival in lands that were covered for much of the year in snow. Our knowledge is further enhanced by fragments of skis and a few poles found ...

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Chapter 2. Skis For A Purpose

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pp. 22-35

Webbed snowshoes, ski-

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Chapter 3. The Norwegian Thrust

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pp. 36-55

The Industrial Revolution changed the landscape, population, politics, and mores of Europe in the nineteenth century. From the Urals to Uruguay, from Kosciusko to Kobe, industrialization molded much of the world into its modern mode of work and play. It had a profound impact on skiing as well. The change in skiing was no sudden break, and it did not happen, ...

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Chapter 4. Fridtjof Nansen

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pp. 56-69

Fridtjof Nansen’s great feat of crossing the southern third of Greenland on skis in 1888 was hardly utilitarian in the accepted sense of the word. Prior to his escapade, the usefulness of trudging through all that ice and snow was ridiculed in the press, as well as by that enigmatic genius, Knut Hamsun. ...

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Chapter 5. Creating The Skisport

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pp. 70-89

However much Nansen may have inveighed against “sport,” when skiing ceased being utilitarian, when its cultural uses gave way to recreational entertainment, skisport became the new winter attraction among both the townsmen of Scandinavia and the landed wealthy and urban bourgeoisie of much of the rest of Europe. They modernized skiing, providing standardization ...

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Chapter 6. The English Play

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pp. 90-106

The English had virtually begun, and then organized, modern sports. As with most sports, skiing started among the wealthy. It appealed to those whose public school (private school) back-

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Chapter 7. The French Worry

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pp. 107-121

While English society was relishing the snow in “ Europe’s Playground,” to rephrase the title of Leslie Stephen’s well- known book on the Alps, the French took to skiing for rather different motives in the years running up to the First World War. Behind all the fun and games to be had on skis, upper-­ most ...

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Chapter 8. The Germans and Austrians Organize

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pp. 122-139

France’s children were in training to halt the German foe again, the response to Germany’s increasing militancy. The French, and other powers, had taken note of the development in Germany of ski troops. What they did not know was the full extent of the German programs as troops on skis became ...

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Chapter 9. The Ladies Ski

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pp. 140-152

Women had used skis since the earliest times. One of Olaus Magnus’s woodcuts shows a woman speeding on skis, hair streaming out behind her, bow at the ready; another with her baby on her back sliding along on the way to church. Skis were utilitarian instruments for everyone. We know little enough about men’s skiing and even less about women’s. The Marquis ...

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Chapter 10. The Great War

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pp. 153-163

Armies gave a panache to imperial parades where glittering uniforms were equated with military efficiency. In winter the ski troops of France, Italy, Germany, and Austria provided a thrilling spectacle as they joined in social skisport before the First World War. Yet military skiing should have owed little to the sporting activities. Ski troop leaders ordered forced ...

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Chapter 11. Uneasy Peace—Les Années Folles

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pp. 164-180

Recovering from the war meant economic rivalry among nations in every sphere. For Henry Cuënot, chairman of the Club Alpin Français’ (CAF) Winter Sports Commission, it meant competition to attract winter sportsmen and -women to France. The Versailles Treaty was supposed to insure Germany’s lowly status; but even Germany might recover, ...

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Chapter 12. The Winter Olympic Games of Chamonix, St. Moritz, Lake Placid

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pp. 181-197

In the forty years before World War II, it was never absolutely clear that skiing would become part of the Olympic Games. Many reasons militated against inclusion. First, there were already two major skiing events, the Holmenkollen competition, held annually outside Oslo and frequently called “The Olympic Games of the North” or some such title, and the ...

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Chapter 13. Europeans Abroad in the East

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pp. 198-215

In the nineteenth century only a very few Central Europeans were on skis. They gained their knowledge, and often their equipment, from Scandinavia, especially from Norway. Nor-

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Chapter 14. Europeans Abroad in the Americas

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pp. 216-240

In the 1920s and increasingly in the decade before the Second World War, a second group of Europeans with a different ski culture that we now call “Alpine,” emigrated to eastern America, to wooded and hilly New England. A social spirit of skiing with its attendant economic spin-­offs of inns, tows, fashion, and equipment appealed to urban groups. Skiing in the Midwest had been available to anyone who cared to try it whereas in the East it was the preserve ...

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Chapter 15. Skiing Under Siege

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pp. 241-259

The aristocracy of Europe delighted in skiing, perhaps to escape the horrifying thought of another war brewing. They might even meet Hjalmar Schacht or Albert Speer, two of Hitler’s top henchmen, on the slopes. Not the Führer though; he found skiing frivolous and dangerous.1 The nearest he got to it was opening the Garmisch-­Partenkirchen Olympic ...

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Chapter 16. The Schneider Phenomenon

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pp. 260-274

In the early morning hours of March 12, 1938, Austria’s most famous Alpine skier was ordered out of his home in St. Anton am Arlberg, leaving his wife and two children behind. He was taken with five others to the school and then to prison in Landeck. He remained there for twenty-­five days before being ...

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Chapter 17. The Russo-Finnish War

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pp. 275-282

The Ann

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pp. 283-292

Looking over skiing’s six-­thousand-year history, I am struck by the immense time span during which skis were purely of utilitarian value. They were an essential part of the folk culture of snowy lands. The bog skis and their modern counterparts used right up into the 1930s by an occasional outdoorsman ...


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pp. 293-372

bibliographic note on selected archives

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pp. 373-376


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pp. 377-384

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760604
E-ISBN-10: 1613760604
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496002
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496009

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2007