Skiing in the 17th century

Janez Vajkard Valvasor, the author of the exceptional history of Slovenia The Glory of the Duchy of Crain offers one of the earliest descriptions of skiing in Europe. (published in 1689).

Curious Snow-walking in the Mountains (excerpt from The Glory of the Duchy of Crain)
Whenever thick snow falls in the high mountains in winter and the pathways are covered so that you can’t go anywhere, since you sinks deep into the snow: then people put on footwear braided from thin switches or cord and tie them to their feet. In this way they walk safely on snow, without fear of sinking into it. Let snow be as soft and fresh as may be, these wide slippers prevent you from sinking into it. This is a great invention.

When snow is frozen and hard, they tie on iron crampons, metal plates with six sharp spikes. They use them also in summer, when they have to climb the steep rocky mountain pastures, since without them they could not proceed.

In some places in Carniola, particularly near Castle Turjak and thereabouts, countrymen also know a rare invention, such as I have not seen in any other country, and that is, that in winter, when snow covers the ground in the high country, they descend with unbelievable speed into the valley. To this purpose they take two planks, one quarter inch thick, half a foot wide, and about five feet long. In front he planks are curved and upturned. In the middle there a leather strap is affixed, into which they slip their feet. On each foot they place a plank. In addition to this, the mountain man holds a hefty stave; this he places firmly under his armpit, leans far back along its length, for support and steering. In this way he glides or almost flies, down the steepest slope. Since in that he stands on the slats and with all his strength leans on the stave, he rushes with such speed downhill, that he reaches unimaginable speed, not falling behind the Dutch, who skate on ice. At any moment he can avoid anything, that is in his way, be it a tree or a rock, or anything else. No hill is too steep, none so overgrown, that he could not in this way scamper over it. Since anywhere, where there is something standing in his way, he is able to snake and peck his way through. If the way is completely free, not overgrown and without obstacles, he hurtles straight ahead, all the time standing and leaning back on the stave: he holds on with such force, so strongly and firmly, as though he did not have limbs and joints. 

In Slovenian the word for skis is smuči, for skiing smučanje or smuka. The word derives from the verb smukniti, meaning to dart (movement of a small fast animal)

Translated by Aleksandra L. Ceferin

• (0) Comments