New England Ski Museum Opens Nordic Skiing Exhibit

Cy Moss in Brattleboro, VT...probably 1930s. Photo: New England Ski Museum Collection.New England Ski Museum Opens Nordic Skiing Exhibit, Nordic Skiing from the Stone Age to Skating Opens June 5

Franconia Notch, NH May 27, 2009 -Thousands of years before the invention of the wheel, humans in northern areas fabricated skis as means of transport over deep snow. Skiing as a sport was described as early as 1555, but only materialized in any organized sense in the 19th century in Norway. The division of skiing into the so-called Nordic and Alpine disciplines occurred in the first half of the 20th century, and it is only since the 1960s that Nordic skiing in the US reached anything resembling popularity.

A new exhibit at the New England Ski Museum, Nordic Skiing from the Stone Age to Skating, details the long, rich history of Nordic skiing in its many forms, including its origins as a utilitarian mode of travel, its Norwegian development as cross-country skiing and ski jumping, its ascent to popularity in the 1970s, and the modern revival of interest in telemark skiing. The exhibit will be on display in the Museum in Franconia Notch from June 5, 2009 until the end of the 2010 ski season.

A modern window into the nature of one form of prehistoric skiing has recently been found in the Altai Mountains of central Asia, where Washington State telemark instructor and filmmaker Nils Larsen has documented a group of isolated indigenous people who retain their age-old tradition of skiing, providing a contemporary insight into the nature of primordial skiing that had previously been only hinted at by rock drawings and ancient ski fragments recovered from peat bogs. Larsen has loaned a pair of hand-made skis from the Altai region, complete with horsehair bases that allow them to be used for climbing, for the exhibition.

It was in 19th century Norway that skiing truly emerged as a sport, and the exhibit describes the contributions of Norwegians like Sondre Norheim of the Telemark province, who personified that region’s mastery of technique and technological improvements of the skis and bindings of the era, and Fridtjof Nansen, the explorer who crossed Greenland on skis in 1888 and raised skiing to a global level of awareness.

Norwegians who settled in America brought skiing with them, from Berlin, New Hampshire to the Midwest, and in the Sierra Mountains, where by the 1860s, downhill ski racing clubs had formed and many of the trappings of modern sport such as written regulations, a league-level umbrella organization, formal officiating, press coverage, and notably energetic betting on race outcomes had appeared.

Once ski lifts and downhill skiing technique were developed in the early and mid 20th century, the Nordic form was overshadowed until the enthusiasm for physical fitness and environmental awareness in the 1970s brought new life to cross-country, echoing the frenzy of interest in Alpine that had swept the US in the 1930s. Stowe, Vermont and Jackson, New Hampshire were the scene of the earliest ski touring centers, and by the mid-1970s their formula had been repeated in hundreds of locations. The introduction of fiberglass Nordic skis, carbon fiber poles and boot-binding combinations served to make equipment lighter and faster. In 1982, America’s first Olympic Silver medalist in Nordic, Bill Koch, led the transition to skating, a newer and faster cross-country race technique.

Skating was a radically new technique, but with the rise in Nordic interest came a rebirth of the oldest form of Nordic downhill, the telemark turn. It arose independently in multiple locations in the early 1970s. In places as disparate as Crested Butte, Colorado, Waitsfield, Vermont, Lake Placid, New York and the Pacific Northwest, the telemark was revitalized and refined until it became a new subset of skiing, a hybrid of Nordic and Alpine that suggests the 20th century divide between those two time-honored facets of the sport was only a temporary, fading distinction.

About the New England Ski Museum

Located in Franconia Notch next to the Cannon Mountain Tramway, NH, the New England Ski Museum is a non-profit, member-supported museum dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting aspects of ski history. The Museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM seven days a week from Memorial Day through the end of March. Admission is free. The Museum also maintains satellite exhibits at the Shops at Norcross Place in downtown North Conway, NH and at Bretton Woods Mountain Resort. For more information call 800-639-4181 or visit

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