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April 19, 2022

Cross-Country Skiers in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, ca. 1910

This mixed group of men and women were photographed around 1910 in Animas Forks or Eureka demonstrating their skis. The photo comes from one of the many antique photo albums in the Gunnison Pioneer Museum’s collection.

People have used skis to move about in the snows of Colorado for generations. Scandinavian immigrants brought the useful custom with them to the United States, and it transferred readily to the residents and pioneers of mountainous and snowy landscapes as a near necessity.

Skis were frequently called “Norwegian Snowshoes” in the last decades of the nineteenth century, a comment both on their Scandinavian origin and on the prosaic reality that they were not yet used so much for sport as they were for transportation. Residents of Colorado’s mountain towns might find themselves using them almost daily as their towns were snowed in over the long winters.

The skis themselves were generally longer than the skis used today, and were typically fashioned locally from planks that had been steam-bent and cut to points at the tips. Instead of the dual poles used today, skiers used just one long pole to help stabilize and propel themselves, resulting in a motion akin to that used by an English canal punter or Venetian gondolier. When skis were used for speed going downhill, as some miners habitually did when returning from mines high above towns, the pole was generally held between the legs and pointed to the rear so it could be lowered to create braking drag when needed.


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