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Big Ups to Sondre Norheim

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Just wanted to give a shout out to father of Alpine skiing (though anyone serious enough to post here already knows his story).

Basically, I believe that Sondre Norheim is the one person that has done the most to advance the development of any sport, in any place, in all of time.

The guy was a norwegion ski jumper from (you guessed it) the Telemark region of Norway when in 1868, he entered a ski contest in the nearby city of (gasp) Christiania (now known as Oslo). The contest involved one event with a cross country racing section and a ski jumping area, as well as numerous downhill slopes, all rolled inn one continous race. The competitors used the SAME skis for all legs of the race and were evaluated not only on their time, but also on their jumping form. Cutting edge ski technique at that time said that you didn't turn when going downhill, (not even stemmed turns : : : ) and competitors and recreational skiers alike slowed themselves by putting their ONE long bamboo pole between their legs and then dragging it on the ground to slow down. The really advanced skiers put their pole upright on either side and leaned on it to slow down. The competitors were also scared sh*t-less of the size and steepness of the jump and slowed themselves as much as they could with their pole until the reached the take off. Most only reached 4 m of jump.

Altogether a pretty sad showing for the birthplace of skiing until a relatively unkown skier in the racing scene twice anyone else's age showed up (about 42 if memory serves right) and dominated the scene.

He was modestly fast on the cross country portions but on the downhill sections is where he shined the brightest. As can be imagined, straining to drag a pole on the ground whenever the going gets steep is not the most effective way to win a race. Sondre soared down the slope for the ski jump making nary a turn and absolutely out jumped everyone else by an incredible margin. Even more impressive were the turns he used to handle the downhill sections with grace and skill. AS he landed from the jump, he astounded the judges and audience by putting his ski close together, one in front of the other in the now familiar "telemark" position. To slow himself down, Sondre began cranking out tele-turns (all knee droppers and free heelers owe a debt of gratitude to Norheim for this). On other downhill sections, he used parallel turns to make effortless and solid turns around his competitors who grasped their poles like lifelines as they pitifully scraped their way down the slope. This parallel turn was mislabeled in later years and has ever since been referred to as the christiania turn or the parallel christie, even though the turn had no developmental link to the city of it's namesake. Alpine style skiing (though it wasn't called that for many years )was now born.

Every bit as amazing as his contributions to technique were his contributions to equipment that set him a cut above the rest. Simply and truthfully, he invented the cable binding. Bindings up to that point were a simple leather thong ran through the ski and wrapped around the toe of any boot. Obviously, control was virtually nil. Sondre's idea was instead to have a tight toe peice and in addition, he soaked willow bands in hot water and wrapped them around the heel of his boots to hold them down. In addition he also peioneered a concept in ski design that has come to prominence in the last decade. Sondre had the idea that if he made the waist of the ski SLIGHTLY narrowed as opposed to the tip and tail, the ski would turn easier. This was unknown before because turning downhill whilst wearing skis was also relatively unknown.

AS a result of his steller performance and superior skill on skis, Sondre was declared the winner (to very little contestation, I would imagine ). He continued to compete for years and trained two other ski jumpers who took numerous first places throughout their respective careers. In the 1880's, Sondre immigrated to the United States but little is mentioned of his skiing there up until the time of his death some two decades lator.

Battles between the Alpine view of skiing and the Nordic view of skiing raged for many decades afterwards that can still be felt today, though the division of the two sports merge somewhat with the revival of telemark-style downhill skiing, but in all disciplines, the influence of Sondre Norheim exists in both technique, equipment, and the belief that skiing should be a graceful, powerful, and active thing.

Karsten Hain

edit-grammar error

[ September 05, 2002, 08:39 AM: Message edited by: Karsten Hain ]
post #2 of 6

Rock wall drawing from Rodoy, Norway
Man on skis. c.2500 B.C.
post #3 of 6
Thanks, Karsten. Sondre was too crucial to the sport to ever be forgotten.
post #4 of 6
Thanks Karsten!
post #5 of 6
Great post, Karsten! Even as a child growing up in the Telemark region of Norway, Sondre Norheim was legendary for his skiing exploits. He is generally credited with inventing the telemark turn, as well as the turn that would become known as the "christie"--which remains the generic term for alpine skiing turns today. He may well have been the first to use "shaped skis" as well--as you noted, in addition to revolutionary heel-straps, the skis he used to dominate that race in Christiania (now Oslo), in 1868, were among the first to have sidecut.

Here's a story told at what would have been Norheim's 100th birthday, by Aslak Bergland, who knew him personally:

“I remember folk talked about a jump Sondre did when he was a child. He had placed a ladder on their house and covered it with spruce sprigs and snow. He set off and on the rooftop his jump was so high that he flew over the cowshed as well! He didn’t fall of course, and he continued all the way down to Bjaaland. There a cow was standing out in the yard. Sondre came dashing like greased lightning, and suddenly the cow tipped over! Sondre said it was because of the air pressure...."
There are others with a reasonable claim to the title of "father of modern skiing"--Mathias Zdarsky (the "father of the parallel turn"), and Sir Arnold Lunn (the "father of modern ski racing"), in particular, but I agree with you that Norheim should be remembered as one of the biggest influences, both technically and spiritually, in our sport.

For anyone interested in more, here's an excellent web site (click here) dedicated to Sondre Norheim. The quote above comes from this site.

Best regards,
Bob Barnes

[ September 10, 2002, 05:11 PM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #6 of 6

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed the great reading. Actually visited Squaw Valley this summer and saw the Morgedal flame still burning. Very special, as the 1960 Olympics were the first I really remenber as I was listening to the radio up in the mountains in Norway.
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