SKI (pronounced " skee," Icel. scidh, snow-shoe, properly " piece of wood "), the wooden snow-shoe on which the inhabitants of Scandinavia and neighbouring countries travel over the snow. Implements for this purpose were used by many nations, of antiquity. Xenophon (Anab. iv. 5) describes the shoes or pattens of skins with which the horses of the Armenians were shod, to prevent them from sinking into the snow, and Procopius made mention of the ancient Lapps, known in Scandinavia as " SkridFinnen," or sliders. Snow-shoes have always been used by the Mongols of north-western Asia. From the evidence of the old Norse sagas they must have been general in Scandinavia long before the Christian era. Uller, the god of winter, is always spoken of as walking upon skis, the curved toes of which gave rise to the legend that they were really ships upon which the god was wafted over hill and dale. Skis have been used time out of mind by Lapps, Finns and Scandinavians for hunting and journeying across the frozen country. The first skis of which there is any record were elongated, curved frames covered with leather. Those of the Skrid-Finnen of the 16th century were leather shoes, pointed at the toe, about 3 ft. long, into which, a few inches from the rear end, the feet were thrust up to the ankles. The form of the shoe varied in different districts. Modern skis are not, like the North American snow-shoe, made of broad frames covered with a thong web, but long, narrow, nearly flat pieces of ash, oak or spruce, pointed and turned up for about a foot at the toe. Their length is usually the distance their wearer can reach upwards with his hand, that for the average man being about 7 ft. 6 in., although some advocate less length.
Their width at the broadest part is about 5 in., and their greatest thickness (just under the foot) about ij in., tapering towards both ends. The under surface is usually perfectly smooth, although some skis are provided with narrow strips running lengthwise on the under surface, to prevent sideslipping. The feet, encased in stout deer-hide shoes, heelless or nearly so, are fastened to the middle of the skis by an arrangement of straps, called the binding. A staff from 4 to 5 ft. long completes the touring outfit. On level ground the skis are allowed to glide over the snow without being lifted from it, the heels being raised while the toes remain fast to the skis. At this gait very long steps can be taken. Climbing hills one must walk zigzag, or even directly sideways step by step. Gentle slopes can be ascended straight ahead by planting the skis obliquely. Downhill the skis become a sledge upon which great velocity is attained. The staff is used as a brake in coasting, and is provided with a small disc a few inches from the lower , end, to prevent it sinking into the snow.
Skiing as a sport began about 1860 in the Norwegian district of Telemark and rapidly spread over all the Scandinavian peninsula. The climax of the racing season is the great inter national ski tournament held annually in February at Holmen kollen, 6 m. from Christiania. This " Norwegian Derby " i divided into two parts, the first devoted to jumping contests, th other to long-distance racing. The take-off for the jumpin, contests is built into the side of a hill, and each competitor mus jump three times. No staff is allowed and no jump is counted i the jumper falls in alighting. The distances covered are extra ordinary, 134 | ft. being the record. The jumper, who starts some distance up the hill, descends at top speed, stoops as he nears th( take-off and launches himself into the air with all his force He maintains an erect position until he reaches the ground alighting with bended knees, on both feet, one a little in advano of the other, and " giving " with his legs to overcome the foreof the fall and to preserve his balance. Another feature is doubl jumping, performed by two persons hand in hand. The highes prize is the King's Cup. The principal distance race is over a difficult course of about 20 m. The record for 25 kilometres ( r sl m -) is 2 hours, 7 min. A Lapp once covered 220 kilometres (about 138 m.) in 21 hrs., 22 min., the country being level Skiing is very popular in Norway with both men and women; in fact it may be called the national sport of Norway.
The sport has been introduced into other countries where the winter is severe, and has become very popular in Switzerlanc and the United States, especially in Minnesota and the Rocky Mountain country. The principal club in the British Isles is the " Ski Club of Great Britain." The mails between Chile and the Argentine Republic are carried in winter by relays of Norwegian ski-runners, about 300 being employed. The skis worn by them are usually shod with horn. Skis cannot be used with advantage during a thaw or where the snow is less than 6 in. deep. On this account, and because of their general unwieldiness, they are less convenient in thick forests than the Indian snow-shoe, though faster in the open country.
Ski have been used for military purposes by the Northern peoples for several centuries, and of late years other nations which have mountainous regions of snow have turned their attention to this most useful mode of winter marching. The army of Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus and his successors one of the foremost in Europe employed infantry provided with ski in its military operations. In Norway special units so provided were organized in 1710. Recently (1902) the Alpine infantry of France and Italy have taken up the question. In Briancon, attached to the ispth regiment of French infantry, is an ecole militaire de ski (established 1903) which trains the Chasseurs Alpins of the 1st line, and also the regional troops which are intended to take part in the defence of the southeastern frontier of France. These regiments as a rule furnish one officer, one non-commissioned officer and a few soldiers each to every course of instruction, which lasts two months. At the end of the first month the skieur is expected in full marching order to cover 60 kilometres (37! m.) of Alpine territory in the day. The ski are put to a variety of ingenious uses; to form a stretcher-sledge for wounded men; and if rapidity of movement is desired, a horse or pony pulls the skieur along by means of long reins attached to the horse's girth. Even camps in the mountains are improvised. The skieur is thickly clothed and muffled, and his eyes are protected against snowblindness by blue or black spectacles. Some of the 1 performances of soldiers on ski have been notable. Captain Bernard, chief of the ecole of Briancon, ascended the cols of Arsine (2400 metres) and of the Cauterel (2080 metres) in 16 hours with a party of 25 men. In Russia some Finland troops in full marching order executed a long hunting march in Carelia. In 29 days they covered 860 kilometres. In Switzerland a skieur took less than 1 2 hours^to cover 25 kilometres, including altitudes of 1547 metres. In order to witness this competition, which took place in Glarus, the soldiers from the S. Gothard garrison made a march of 48 kilometres including the ascent of the Klausengrass (2000 metres). A Norwegian soldier named Holte covered with one leap a distance of 21 m. 20 cm., and his companion Heyderdahl later achieved 24.
In Italy each company of Alpini has an annual credit for the provision of ski. Their duties in war time are almost the same as those of mounted infantry exploration and communication, and the seizure of advanced positions.
In the seven months of snow on these frontiers the garrisons of the lonely posts cannot go out save on ski or snow-shoes, as to the respective merits of which military opinion is divided.
See Norway's National Sport, by T. W. Schreiner, Outing, vol. 37; Auf Schneeschuhen durch Gronland, by F. Nansen ( Hamburg, 1891); Ski-running, edited by E. C. Richardson (London, 1904) ; Year-Book of the Ski Club of Great Britain.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)