skiing, sport of sliding over snow on skis—long, narrow, flexible runners. Water skiing is a warm-weather sport in which a motor-propelled craft tows a skier through the water.
Once made of highly polished wood, most skis are now made of plastics, polyurethane foam, and other materials. They come in many different sizes and styles, depending on whether their intended use is cross-country, downhill, ski jumping, freeskiing, or another branch of the sport. Traditional skis have an upturned tip at one end only; twin-tip skis, with upturned tips at both ends, were originally used in freeskiing, but versions are available for other uses. The bindings that attach the ski to the boot vary as well. Most skiers also use a pair of poles, each of which has a wriststrap on the top, a sharp tip on the bottom, and a circular ring about 4 in. (10 cm) from the tip to prevent it from sinking into the snow. The bottoms of skis may be waxed for maximum glide in varying snow conditions.
Types of Events
Traditional competitive skiing comprises four events: (1) downhill, a steep descent in a race against time; (2) slalom, raced on a sharply twisting course marked off by flags; (3) the ski jump, in which contestants leap from specially prepared jump slopes, and are judged on both distance and form; and (4) cross-country, in which skiers race over a long course (ranging from 10 km/6 mi to 50 km/31 mi in the Olympic games) on which the terrain and obstacles test stamina and maneuverability. The first two are known as Alpine events, the latter two as Nordic events.
Alpine competition now also includes the combined (or super combined), with both downhill (or supergiant slalom) and slalom races, and the giant slalom and the supergiant slalom (or Super-G), which resemble the slalom but use longer, less twisted courses that permit faster speeds. Nordic skiing includes individual ski jumping from the normal and large hills, permitting jumps of around 115 yd/105 m and 153 yd/140 m respectively, and team jumping from the large hill; and individual, relay, sprint, team sprint (a relay), and mass start cross-country events. The Nordic combined comprises cross-country racing and ski jumping (for individuals and teams) and skiathlon events combine classic and freestyle cross-country styles of skiing. The biathlon events combine cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Freestyle events, a more modern development, include ski cross, in which several skiers race down a specially prepared course; moguls, a downhill race in which a score for form for jumps over large bumps, or moguls, is combined with the elapsed time; aerials, acrobatic twists, flips, and the like performed in the air; ski halfpipe, acrobatic aerial moves performed along a halfpipe course; and slopestyle, acrobatic tricks and aerial moves performed on a course containing rails and other obstacles and ramps.
Snowboarding is a form of skiing that uses a single wide ski, or snowboard, and no poles, and has similarities to surfing and skateboarding. Originating in the 1960s, it grew rapidly in popularity from the late 1980s, and is now done at most ski resorts. Snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998; acrobatic competition on halfpipe and slopestyle courses and racing on slalom, giant slalom, and snowboardcross courses comprise the current events. A splitboard is a snowboard that may be separated lengthwise to form a pair of skis.
Even newer is skiboarding, which originated in the late 1990s and employs shorter and wider skis that are usually used without poles. Skiboarding offers the skier some of the sensations of ice skating or in-line roller skating. It is generally easier to learn than skiing, in part because skiboards are easier to maneuver. In snowkiting a parachutelike airfoil (the "kite" ) and the wind are used to propel a skier or snowboarder across the snow and through the air.
Although its origin is obscure, skiing was a vital means of transportation and a valuable military skill in Scandinavia, where skis more than 4,000 years old have been discovered. Skiing was introduced into Central Europe at the close of the 16th cent. In the last half of the 19th cent., Norway held two-day carnivals that included races and jumping.
It is uncertain whether Americans learned skiing from natives or whether it was brought to America by Norwegian and Swedish immigrants in the mid-19th cent. The first U.S. ski club was formed in 1872, and the National Ski Association was founded in 1904. In 1924 the Fédération Internationale de Ski was founded, and skiing became part of the first Winter Olympics.
Skiing enjoyed a tremendous boom in the United States as a recreational sport from the 1930s, spurred by the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y. (1932 and 1988) and at Squaw Valley, Calif. (1960), and by the development of ski tows and lifts, which can place skiers at the summit of a run in minutes. Artificial snowmaking machines and the construction of runs of varying levels of difficulty have also contributed to the sport's expansion.
See B. Jonas and S. Masia, Ski Magazine's Total Skiing (1987); T. Gallwey and B. Kriegel, Inner Skiing (rev. ed. 1991).