Humans have used skis as a means of transportation for thousands of years, and ancient cave and rock art indicates that the use of skis to travel down hills predates recorded history. The history of downhill skiing is long and fascinating, and there are numerous fun facts about this popular winter sport.
Humans have been strapping pieces of wood to their feet for more than 5,000 years, according to the website of the 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Winter Games. Historians believe that people in what is now Norway were the first to use skis as a way to traverse snow-covered terrain while hunting. The use of skis gradually expanded throughout Scandinavia and then to Russia as a means of transportation across snow, but eventually evolved into a sport similar to what is now cross-country skiing. Downhill skiing grew from cross-country skiing somewhere in the early 1700s. Around this time, downhill skiers in the Telemark area of Norway invented the Telemark turn and the Christiana — now called Christie — turn to control their speed during downhill descents.
Early Downhill Racing
The first recorded downhill skiing race in Europe took place in 1879 in Sweden, according to the Trivia-Library website. However, the site also claims that downhill competitions took place as early as 1861 in La Porte, California, with participants such as Jimmy "Snowshoe" Thompson competing in these early races. During the 1860s, however, downhill racing skis were called snowshoes and ranged from 10 feet to 25 feet in length. Records from that era list Frank Woodward as having made a straight downhill run — known as a "schuss" — covering 1,950 feet in 17 seconds. Records also show that Tommy Tood reached speeds approaching 90 miles an hour when he schussed 1,804 feet in 14 seconds.
In 1965, chemical engineer Sherman Poppen came up with the idea to strap two downhill skis together as a toy for his daughter. He dubbed his invention "the Snurfer," and attached a rope at the nose so the rider could hold it and keep the Snurfer stable while skiing downhill. After several requests for Snurfers from his daughter's friends, Poppen licensed his new idea to a manufacturer as a children's toy, and more than a half-million Snurfers were sold in 1966.
Toughest Downhill Course
According to the Fun Trivia website, competitive skiers consider the course at Kitzbühel, in Tyrol, Austria, to be the toughest in the world. Most skiers on the World Cup tour consider the Hahnenkamm races at Kitzbuhel to be the highlight of the tour. The race has been held each year since 1967 and finishes with the treacherous "Streif" run that ends near the center of the city. For a skier, one of the highest honors in the sport of downhill racing is to win a race at Kitzbühel.