Friday, January 14, 2011

To the Slopes

Magnet # 439:  West Virginia Skiers

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Me

Get ready to hit the slopes, even if you never have before, because tomorrow is Learn to Ski Day!  And I'm not sure if it couldn't have come at a better time this year.  We've had yet another cold surge and many areas that never see snow are covered in it.  In fact, I read a couple of days ago that there was snow present in 49 out of the 50 states.  And the only state to have eluded it?  No, it's not Hawaii, as I would have guessed - its actually Florida, which is pretty chilly as well.  So this is a pretty good opportunity for many people to engage in some Winter sports that they usually couldn't try out locally.  And even though it's not all that easy to dabble in, some might even be able to give skiing a chance.

Humans have been skiing for thousands of years and it's believed that the ancestors of the Norse and Swedish people of northern Europe may have first developed the activity.  Carvings made as far back as 5000 B.C. portraying  a skier with one pole have been discovered in Norway, and the earliest pair of skis ever found may have been created as early as 4500 B.C.  Legends tell of early ski races and two Norse deities are said to have hunted on skis.  The current era of skiing didn't really start until the mid 1800s, when the "father of modern skiing," Sondre Norheim invented the first stiff bindings by tying wet birch roots around his boots.  These were more secure than leather straps and gave skiers the ability to try more complicated maneuvers.  Around that time, woodcarvers in the Telemark region were creating lighter and thinner skis.  Thanks to both of these innovations, new techniques in stopping and turning were developed, and the sport became even more popular.  By the early 1900s, the sport was becoming even more widespread and its inclusion in the first Winter Olympic Games only increased its awareness worldwide and nations like Japan gave the sport a try.  And with the introduction of ski lifts, the numbers of skiers grew so much that resorts sprang up across the globe.  What was once a sport limited to a very small portion of the world has now become a global sensation, familiar to nearly all sports enthusiasts.

I've gotta be honest, I've never tried skiing once in my life.  Given my distaste of snow and my aversion to sports, it's not exactly a good fit for me.  But my parents used to have some fun getting out on the slopes before I was ever born.  That was when they lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  And even though their neck of the woods wasn't an ideal spot for skiing, as it lacked the mountains that make places like West Virginia and Vermont great venues for the sport, there was a nearby hill they were able to use.  But it wasn't exactly known for its impressive facilities.  Instead of heading up to the top on a chair lift or even a T-bar, they used a tow rope that was powered by an old truck engine.  It wasn't easy to hold onto and skiers often lost their grip on it.  When they did, they had to move aside quickly or the next person would crash into them and a pile up might occur.  Nonetheless, they still had lots of fun there, and considering it was free, it was definitely within their budget.  They mainly kept to the bunny slopes, though.  And a few years later, they realized that they could either invest in skiing or traveling, so they opted to travel and give up the sport.  I wonder how my life might have been different if they had chosen skiing instead, and I'm not sure if we could have kept up the sport living in the usually warm Southeastern climate.  I suppose I could try out skiing for myself someday, but I'm not sure if that will ever happen - I can just imagine being outshone by elementary kids on the bunny slopes.  Still, in the spirit of Learn to Ski Day, it's worth at least considering trying out the sport.  After all, if it's lasted all of these centuries it can't be all bad, right?

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