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A shaped alpine ski with relatively little sidecut and classic camber: the tip and tail touch the snow while the midsection is in the air. Ski.jpg
A shaped alpine ski with relatively little sidecut and classic camber: the tip and tail touch the snow while the midsection is in the air.

A ski is a narrow strip of semi-rigid material worn underfoot to glide over snow. Substantially longer than they are wide, and characteristically employed in pairs, skis are attached to ski boots with ski bindings, with either a free, lockable, or partially secured heel. For climbing slopes, ski skins (originally made of seal fur, but now made of synthetic materials) can be attached at the base of the ski.


Originally intended as an aid to travel over snow, they are now mainly used recreationally in the sport of skiing.

Etymology and usage

The word ski comes from the Old Norse word skíð which means "cleft wood", [1] "stick of wood" or "ski". [2] In Old Norse common phrases describing skiing were fara á skíðum (to travel, move fast on skis), renna (to move swiftly) and skríða á skíðum (to stride on skis). [3] In modern Norwegian the word ski has largely retained the Old Norse meaning in words for split firewood, wood building materials (such as bargeboards) and roundpole fence. [4] [5] [6] In Norwegian this word is usually pronounced [ˈʂiː] . In Swedish, another language evolved from Old Norse, the word is skidor (plural, pronounced  [ˈɧîːdʊr] ; singular: skida).

English and French use the original Norwegian spelling ski, and modify the pronunciation. Before 1920, English often called them skee and snow-shoe. [7] In Italian, it is pronounced similarly to Norwegian, but the spelling is modified accordingly: sci [ˈʃi] . Portuguese and Spanish adapt the word to their linguistic rules: esqui and esquí. In German, spellings Ski and Schi are in use, both pronounced [ˈʃiː] . In Dutch, the word is ski and the pronunciation was originally [ˈʃiː] as in Norwegian, but since approximately the 1960s changed to [ˈskiː] . In Welsh the word is spelled sgi. [1] Many languages make a verb form out of the noun, such as to ski in English, skier in French, esquiar in Spanish and Portuguese, sciare in Italian, skiën in Dutch, or Schi laufen or Schi fahren (as above also Ski laufen or Ski fahren) in German. [8] [9] Norwegian and Swedish do not form a verb from the noun. [6]

Finnish has its own ancient words for skis and skiing: "ski" is suksi and "skiing" is hiihtää. The word suksi goes back to the Proto-Uralic period, with cognates such as Erzya soks, Mansi tåut and Nganasan tuta. [10] The Sami also have their own words for "skis" and "skiing": for example, the Lule Sami word for "ski" is sabek and skis are called sabega. The Sami use cuoigat for the verb "to ski". [11] [12]


Old skis Old skis.jpg
Old skis

Although it is not clear who invented the skis, the oldest wooden skis found were in Russia (c. 6300–5000 BCE), Sweden (c. 5200 BCE) and Norway (c. 3200 BCE) respectively. [13]

The early skis were not used for fun, leisure, transportation, or speed; their sole purpose was to keep the user on top of the snow while hunting or when in a war. Early skis were generally accompanied with walking sticks to help the user maintain balance.

Nordic ski technology was adapted during the early 20th century to enable skiers to turn at higher speeds. New ski and ski binding designs, coupled with the introduction of ski lifts to carry skiers up slopes, enabled the development of alpine skis. Meanwhile, advances in technology in the Nordic camp allowed for the development of special skis for skating and ski jumping.

Asymmetrical skis

Asymmetrical skis used by the Danish-Norwegian army in the 18th century, long ski for the right leg, also shown in profile (far left). Vorstellung der samtlichen Konigl. Danischen Armee - no-nb digibok 2007092512003-122.jpg
Asymmetrical skis used by the Danish-Norwegian army in the 18th century, long ski for the right leg, also shown in profile (far left).

This type of ski was used at least in northern Finland and Sweden until the 1930s. [11] On one leg, the skier wore a long straight non-arching ski for sliding, and on the other a shorter ski for kicking. The bottom of the short ski was either plain or covered with animal skin to aid this use, while the long ski supporting the weight of the skier was treated with animal fat in similar manner to modern ski waxing. Early record of this type of skis survives in works of Olaus Magnus. [15] He associates them to Sami people and gives Sami names of savek and golos for the plain and skinned short ski.

Finnish names for these are lyly and kalhu for long and short ski. [16]

Single long ski

The seal hunters at the Gulf of Bothnia had developed a special long ski to sneak into shooting distance to the seals' breathing holes, though the ski was useful in moving in the packed ice in general and was made specially long, 3–4 meters, to protect against cracks in the ice. This is called skredstång in Swedish. [17]

Modern skis

Wooden skis with cable (kandahar) bindings and bamboo poles Wilhelm Pohl Ski 003.JPG
Wooden skis with cable (kandahar) bindings and bamboo poles
Modern cross-country skis from synthetic materials, with poles and shoes. Cross-country equipment--Skate and Classic.jpg
Modern cross-country skis from synthetic materials, with poles and shoes.

Around 1850, artisans in Telemark, Norway, invented the cambered ski. This ski arches up in the middle, under the binding, which distributes the skier's weight more evenly across the length of the ski. Earlier plank-style skis had to be thick enough not to bow downward and sink in the snow under the skier's weight. This new design made it possible to build a thinner lighter ski, that flexed more easily to absorb the shock of bumps, and that maneuvered and ran faster and more easily. [18] The design also included a sidecut that narrowed the ski underfoot while the tip and tail remained wider. This enabled the ski to flex and turn more easily. [18]

Skis traditionally were hand-carved out of a single piece of hardwood such as hickory or birch or ash. These woods were used because of their density and ability to handle speed and shock-resistance factors associated with ski racing. Because Europe's forests were dwindling, finding quality plank hardwood became difficult, which led to the invention of the laminated ski. [19] Beginning in 1891, skimakers in Norway began laminating two or more layers of wood together to make lighter cross country running skis. These evolved into the multi-laminated high-performance skis of the mid-1930s. [20]

A laminated ski is made of two types of wood glued together. A top layer of soft wood is glued to a thin layer under a surface of hardwood. This combination created skis which were much lighter and more maneuverable than the heavy hardwood skis made before. Although lighter and stronger, laminated skis did not wear well. The water-soluble glues used at the time failed; they warped and split along the glue edges (delaminating) frequently and rapidly. In 1922, a Norwegian skier, Thorbjorn Nordby, [19] developed strong waterproof glue which stopped the problem of splitting, therefore developing a much tougher laminated ski. Research and design of laminated skis rapidly progressed. In 1933, a new design technology was introduced with an outer hardwood shell completely encasing an inner layer of lighter wood, successfully eliminating spontaneously splitting glue lines. This early design eventually evolved into an advanced laminating technique which is referred to today as single-shell casing technology.

In 1950, Howard Head introduced the Head Standard, constructed by sandwiching aluminium alloy around a plywood core. The design included steel edges (invented in 1928 in Austria, [18] ) and the exterior surfaces were made of phenol formaldehyde resin which could hold wax. This hugely successful ski was unique at the time, having been designed for the recreational market rather than for racing. [21] 1962: a fibreglass ski, Kneissl's White Star, was used by Karl Schranz to win two gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. [21] By the late '60s fibreglass had mostly replaced aluminum.

In 1974, Magne Myrmo became the last world champion (Falun, 15 km cross-country) using wooden skis. [22] [23]

In 1975, the torsion box ski construction design is patented. [24] The patent is referenced by Kästle, Salomon, Rottefella, and Madshus. In 1993 Elan introduced the Elan SCX model, skis with a much wider tip and tail than waist. When tipped onto their edges, they bend into a curved shape and carve a turn. Cross-country techniques use different styles of turns; edging is not as important, and skis have little sidecut. For many years, alpine skis were shaped similarly to cross-country, simply shorter and wider, but the Elan SCX introduced a radial sidecut design that dramatically improved performance. Other companies quickly followed suit, one Austrian ski designer admitting, "It turns out that everything we thought we knew for forty years was wrong." [18] Line Skis, the first free-ski focused ski company [25] inspired the newschool freeskiing movement with its twin-tip ski boards in 1995. [26] The first company to successfully market and mass-produce a twin-tip ski to ski switch (skiing backwards) was the Salomon Group, with its 1080 ski in 1998. [25] [27]


Described in the direction of travel, the front of the ski, typically pointed or rounded, is the tip, the middle is the waist and the rear is the tail. Skis have four aspects that define their basic performance: length, width, sidecut and camber. Skis also differ in more minor ways to address certain niche roles. For instance, mogul skis are softer to absorb shocks, powder skis are wider to provide more float and rocker skis bent upwards (reverse camber) at the tip and tail to make it easier to turn in deep and heavy snow.


Skis have evolved from being made of solid wood to using a variety of materials including carbon-Kevlar to make skis stronger, stiffer in twisting, lighter, and more durable. Ski manufacturing techniques allow skis to be made in one or a combination of three designs:

Laminate or sandwich

Combination of cap design (upper part) and sidewall laminated design (lower part, white) Half cap design.jpg
Combination of cap design (upper part) and sidewall laminated design (lower part, white)

Laminated skis are built in layers. Materials such as fiberglass, steel, aluminum alloy, or plastic are layered and compressed above and below the core. [28] Laminated construction is the most widely used manufacturing process in the ski industry today. The first successful laminate ski, and arguably the first modern ski was the Head Standard, introduced in 1950, which sandwiched aluminum alloy around a plywood core.

Torsion box

The Dynamic VR7 introduced a new construction method in which a smaller wooden core was wrapped in wet fibreglass, as opposed to pre-dried sheets of fibreglass being glued to the core (essentially replacing metal sheets). The result was a torsion box, which made the ski much stronger. The VR7, and its more famous follow-on VR17, was the first fibreglass ski that could be used for men's racing, and quickly took over that market. Over time, materials for both the core and torsion box have changed, with wood, various plastic foams, fibreglass, kevlar and carbon fiber all being used in different designs. Torsion box designs continue to dominate cross-country ski designs, but is less common for alpine and ski touring.

Monocoque or cap

During the 1980s, Bucky Kashiwa developed a new construction technique using a rolled stainless steel sheet forming three sides of a torsion box over a wooden core, with the base of the ski forming the bottom. Introduced in 1989, the Volant skis proved expensive to produce, and in spite of numerous positive reviews, the company never became profitable. In 1990, the Salomon S9000 took the same basic concept but replaced the steel with plastics, producing a design they called "monocoque". Now referred to as the "cap ski" design, the concept eliminates the need to wrap the core and replaces this with a single-step process that is much less expensive to produce. Cap ski construction dominates alpine ski construction today.


The classical wooden ski consists of a single long piece of suitable wood that is hand-carved to the required shape. Early designs were generally rectangular in cross-section, with the tip bent up through application of steam. Over time the designs changed, and skis were thinned out to the sides, or had prominent ridges down the center.

Notable manufacturers


Four groups of different ski types, from left to right:
Non-sidecut: cross-country, telemark and mountaineering
Powder SkiCollection.jpg
Four groups of different ski types, from left to right:
  1. Non-sidecut: cross-country, telemark and mountaineering
  2. Parabolic
  3. Twin-tip
  4. Powder

In the history of skiing many types of skis have been developed, designed for different needs, of which the following is a selection.


Alpine skis, also called downhill skis, are skis designed specifically for lift-assisted resort runs. Ski design has evolved enormously since the beginnings of the modern sport in mid-19th-century Norway. Modern skis typically have steel edges, camber, side cut, and possibly reverse camber. During the 1990s side cut became more pronounced to make it easier to carve turns. Alpine skis typically have fixed-heel bindings. Specialised types of alpine skis exist for certain uses, including twin-tip skis for freestyle skiing, [32] slalom skis, GS Skis, powder skis, telemark skis and monoskis. [33]


Backcountry skiing, also known as off-piste skiing, is any form of skiing done outside of ski area boundaries. Most of the time this type of skiing is done with alpine touring skis, or telemark gear, where skiers take advantage of climbing skins and a detachable heal, to ski uphill. When the skier reaches the top of the area they want to ski down, they take off the climbing skins and make the necessary preparations to ski back down. Backcountry terrain can also be accessed with standard alpine equipment by riding a lift uphill at a ski resort and then leaving the resort boundary. However, this is more commonly known as sidecountry because of its immediate access from a ski lift. [33]


In Nordic skiing the skier is not reliant on ski lifts to get up hills, and so skis and boots tend to be lighter, with a free heel to facilitate walking. Styles of Nordic skiing equipment include:

Ski Maintenance

Ski maintenance encompasses four facets: binding adjustments, waxing, edge shaping, and base repair. [34] [35]

Binding adjustment: Safety-release ski bindings [36] require adjustment to fit the weight and height of the skier. Annual maintenance assures that settings continue to be correct. For rental skis, such an adjustment is required for each change of customers. [37]

Waxing: Most ski wax minimizes gliding friction on snow. "Grip wax" promotes grip on snow for cross-country skis. [38] Wax may be applied in three ways, melting on, rubbing on and as a paste. [34]

Edge shaping: Edges engage the snow, especially during icy conditions. The angle from the plane of the bottom of the ski is set, depending on the type of skiing anticipated, as follows: [35]

Edge shaping may be done daily with carborundum or diamond stone to remove imperfections. Tuning the edges requires a series of applications of sharpening tools and stones, working at approximately right angles along the metal edge. [35]

Base repair: Ski base repair has three levels: cleaning, filling imperfections, and surface preparation. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cross-country skiing</span> Form of snow skiing

Cross-country skiing is a form of skiing where skiers rely on their own locomotion to move across snow-covered terrain, rather than using ski lifts or other forms of assistance. Cross-country skiing is widely practiced as a sport and recreational activity; however, some still use it as a means of transportation. Variants of cross-country skiing are adapted to a range of terrain which spans unimproved, sometimes mountainous terrain to groomed courses that are specifically designed for the sport.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Snowboard</span> Winter sport equipment

Snowboards are boards where the user places both feet, usually secured, to the same board. The board itself is wider than most skis, with the ability to glide on snow. Snowboards widths are between 6 and 12 inches or 15 to 30 centimeters. Snowboards are differentiated from monoskis by the stance of the user. In monoskiing, the user stands with feet inline with direction of travel, whereas in snowboarding, users stand with feet transverse to the longitude of the board. Users of such equipment may be referred to as snowboarders. Commercial snowboards generally require extra equipment such as bindings and special boots which help secure both feet of a snowboarder, who generally ride in an upright position. These types of boards are commonly used by people at ski hills, mountains, backcountry, or resorts for leisure, entertainment, and competitive purposes in the activity called snowboarding.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skiing</span> Recreational activity and sport using snow skis

Skiing is the use of skis to glide on snow. Variations of purpose include basic transport, a recreational activity, or a competitive winter sport. Many types of competitive skiing events are recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Ski Federation (FIS).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine skiing</span> Sport of skiing downhill

Alpine skiing, or downhill skiing, is the pastime of sliding down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed-heel bindings, unlike other types of skiing, which use skis with free-heel bindings. Whether for recreation or for sport, it is typically practiced at ski resorts, which provide such services as ski lifts, artificial snow making, snow grooming, restaurants, and ski patrol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of skiing</span> Skiing from 7000 BC to today

Skiing, or traveling over snow on skis, has a history of at least eight millennia. The earliest archaeological examples of skis were found in the Karelia region in western Russia on the border with Finland and date to 6000 BCE. Modern skiing has evolved from beginnings in Scandinavia, and originally purely utilitarian, starting in the mid-1800s skiing became a popular recreational activity and sport, becoming practiced in snow-covered regions worldwide, and providing a market for the development of ski resorts and their related communities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski binding</span> Connects skier boot to snow ski

A ski binding is a device that connects a ski boot to the ski. Before the 1933 invention of ski lifts, skiers went uphill and down and cross-country on the same gear. As ski lifts became more prevalent, skis—and their bindings—became increasingly specialized, differentiated between alpine (downhill) and Nordic styles of skiing. Until the point of divergence in the mid-20th century, bindings held the toe of a flexible, leather boot against the ski and allowed the heel to rise off the ski, typically with a form of strap or cable around the heel.

Ski boots are footwear used in skiing to provide a way to attach the skier to skis using ski bindings. The ski/boot/binding combination is used to effectively transmit control inputs from the skier's legs to the snow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skis Rossignol</span> French sports equipment and clothing manufacturer

Skis Rossignol S.A., or simply Rossignol, is a French manufacturer of alpine, snowboard, and Nordic equipment, as well as related outerwear and accessories, located in Isère, France. Rossignol was one of the first companies to produce plastic skis. The company also owns the brands Dynastar and LOOK. In 2005, Rossignol was bought by boardsport equipment manufacturer Quiksilver for $560 million. In 2008, Quiksilver made a deal to sell Rossignol for $147 million to a former chief executive, Bruno Cercley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski wax</span>

Ski wax is a material applied to the bottom of snow runners, including skis, snowboards, and toboggans, to improve their coefficient of friction performance under varying snow conditions. The two main types of wax used on skis are glide waxes and grip waxes. They address kinetic friction—to be minimized with a glide wax—and static friction—to be achieved with a grip wax. Both types of wax are designed to be matched with the varying properties of snow, including crystal type and size, and moisture content of the snow surface, which vary with temperature and the temperature history of the snow. Glide wax is selected to minimize sliding friction for both alpine and cross-country skiing. Grip wax provides on-snow traction for cross-country skiers, as they stride forward using classic technique.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski touring</span>


<span class="mw-page-title-main">Splitboard</span>

A splitboard is a snowboard that can be separated into two ski-like parts used with climbing skins to ascend slopes the same way alpine touring or telemark skis are. The main difference is that a splitboard will have an additional metal edge for extra grip in ski mode. Unlike normal snowboards, it will also have nose and tail clips, split hooks, and touring mounts. Similar to cross country skiing, splitboarding allows free heel movement and with skins attached to the bottom of the skis, provides uphill traction. The two halves can then be connected to form a regular snowboard for descent. Splitboarding culture often focuses on the idea of using your own power to access the backcountry usually on unmaintained trails.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carved turn</span>

A carved turn is a skiing and snowboarding term for the technique of turning by shifting the ski or snowboard onto its edges. When edged, the sidecut geometry causes the ski to bend into an arc, and the ski naturally follows this arc shape to produce a turning motion. The carve is efficient in allowing the skier to maintain speed because, unlike the older stem Christie and parallel turns, the skis don't create drag by sliding sideways.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ski geometry</span>

Ski geometry is the shape of the ski. Described in the direction of travel, the front of the ski, typically pointed or rounded, is the tip, the middle is the waist and the rear is the tail. Skis have four aspects that define their basic performance: length, width, sidecut and camber. Skis also differ in more minor ways to address certain niche roles. For instance, skis for moguls are much softer to absorb shocks from the quick and sharp turns of the moguls and skis for powder are much wider to provide more "float" in deeper, softer snow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Teleboard</span>

Developed during the winter of 1996 by Martin and Erik Fey, the Teleboard consists of a long, narrow snowboard, or wide ski, with two free-heel telemark bindings arranged one in front of the other at a slight angle to the longitudinal axis. This is similar to a skwal which uses fixed-heel bindings mounted in line with each other.

4FRNT Skis is an independent brand of alpine ski equipment that helped to pioneer the development of the freeskiing movement. 4FRNT introduced the model of a rider-owned and operated ski company to the sport.

The Head Standard was Howard Head's first successful ski design, and arguably the first modern downhill ski. The Standard used composite construction, with a plywood core sandwiched between aluminum outer skins, steel edges tapering into the core, and a hard plastic base, sidewalls and topsheet. The only major changes in ski materials since the Standard are the use of fibreglass structural layers in place of the aluminum layers, and substitution of expanded plastic foam for the wooden core.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rosemount Ski Boots</span>

Rosemount Ski Boots introduced one of the earliest all-plastic ski boots for the downhill skiing market, competing with Bob Lange for the title of "first". Rosemount's design was easily distinguished by its use of the uncommon "side-entry" method for putting the boot on, which was rare at the time and is no longer used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lange (ski boots)</span>

Lange is a major producer of ski boots used in alpine (downhill) skiing. They introduced the world's first plastic ski boots in 1962, and a greatly improved model aimed at the racing market in 1965. After several World Cup and Olympics wins in 1967 and 1968 made them a must-have on the circuit, Lange has remained a force in the racing market ever since. Their boots have equipped five times as many World Cup medal winners as any other brand into the 2000s. The front-entry design introduced by Lange is used by almost every modern ski boot to this day. Lange remains a major brand worldwide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elan SCX</span> Alpine ski design

The SCX, for "SideCut eXtreme", was an alpine ski introduced by Elan in the winter of 1993/4. Skis before the SCX had almost always used a shape that was slightly curved inward on the sides, typically by 7 millimetres (0.28 in) compared to a straight line running from tip to tail. The SCX was designed with over 22 millimetres (0.87 in) "sidecut", producing a wasp-waisted ski unlike anything on the market.

This glossary of skiing and snowboarding terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon used in skiing, snowboarding, and related winter sports.


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