Teaching ancient Norwegian skiing

Chinese Ma Liqin introduces Norwegians to the old ways during the Lom Ski Festival

Photo: Espen Finstad / Oppdal Fylkeskommune Ma Liqin demonstrates the old method of skiing on wood and fur skis, using only one pole.

Photo: Espen Finstad / Oppdal Fylkeskommune
Ma Liqin demonstrates the old method of skiing on wood and fur skis, using only one pole.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

To celebrate the start of the ski season, Oppland county hosts the Lom Ski Festival each November. For many, the festival marks the first ski of the winter and provides a good excuse to share the experience with others. Locals gather for courses on ski making and skiing history, ski tours to Sognefjellet, concerts, and more. This year, the locals were joined by special guests from China to learn about the ancient method of skiing.

One of those guests was 38-year-old Ma Liqin, considered to be an ancient skiing hero. He belongs to the only group of people still using this old method, who live in the Altai Mountains, a range located at the intersection of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. He was joined by a delegation of six others from China to view the ancient skis found in the area and teach Norwegians about the technique.

This ancient skiing method features wide, wooden skis atop a layer of fur and a single pole. While this old method was replaced by modern skiing in Norway in the 1800s, those living in the Altai Mountains continue to use these skis daily for hunting and transportation.

“There’s starting to be some attention around the peoples who still use wooden skis, and one can wonder how long the tradition has been preserved. The skiing technique is very attached to the traditional life of hunting, trapping, and reindeer herding, and we do not know how long this activity will be kept alive,” said Oppland’s county archaeologist Espen Finstad to VG.

“We may have a 10,000 year-long skiing history in the world where we skied this way. Gaining knowledge about the tradition is to illuminate a long skiing history—it is a window into the past,” he added.

Photo: Espen Finstad / Oppdal Fylkeskommune Closeup of the skis and bindings.

Photo: Espen Finstad / Oppdal Fylkeskommune
Closeup of the skis and bindings.

One of the other Chinese visitors, Ayiken Jiashan, spoke about the skiing culture in the Altai Mountains. He previously studied in Norway and wrote his master’s thesis on the ski culture in Northern China.

“It is a skill that is inherited for generations from father to son. It is common that fathers make skis for their children,” he said.

“Most people learn this skiing technique when they are children. Many people learn to ski when they learn to walk. It is a region with a lot of snow, and there aren’t developed roads everywhere. It is convenient to use skis to get around the large amounts of snow,” he continued.

According to Finstad, the cultural exchange between Jotunheimen and the Altai Mountains was initiated last year after Opp­land archaeologists found a well-preserved ski with binding in a melting glacier. The ski is estimated to date back 1,300 years and is very similar to the skis used in the Altai Mountains to this day, proving that this method once existed in Norway as well.

“This is the only ski from Norwegian history that is preserved with binding,” says Finstad. “We began to get interested in skiing history, and it led us to the Altai Mountains in the Xingjian province of China.”

At the start of the New Year, a group of Norwegian skiers will be traveling to China to participate in a competition held in the Altai Mountains on January 2 and 3. Using only traditional equipment, participants have to use this skiing method to travel through 100 kilometers of forests and mountains over two days. Hopefully the lessons during the Lom Ski Festival prepared them for this challenge!

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 25, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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