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  • Writer's pictureRaúl Revuelta

A Brief History of Alpine Skiing and the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup

Updated: May 16

Sondre Norheim, pioneer of modern skiing
Sondre Norheim. Picture: Jan-Tore Egge

The birth of skiing is traditionally associated with Norway. The history of skiing goes back to carvings dating back to 4000 B.C. representing skiers have been found across the country.

The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway refers to several skiers’ testimonies. In the early 13th century, the civil war shook Norway. In 1206, Håkon Håkonsson, King Birkebeiner's two-year-old son, was to be saved. The two best skiers in the kingdom were Torstein Skjelva and Skjervald Skrukka. They were responsible for bringing the king’s son safely across the mountains of Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen.


The first Norwegian army ski companies were created around 1750 in Trondheim and Kongvingen. The first military ski competition took place a few years later, in 1767.

Other countries like France and Italy followed the Norwegian example and created their first ski companies. In 1871, for the first time, Captain Francois Clerc of the Infantry Corps, stationed at the 159th Alpine Regiment in Briançon, incorporated skis into the troops’ equipment. The first Austrian ski company was created in 1892.

The history of modern skiing dates back to the 19th century in Norway with Sondre Norheim (1825 - 1897), considered the pioneer of skiing. Sondre was born in Morgedal, a small town located in the Telemark County of southern Norway. As a youngster, Sondre enjoyed the mountains of Morgedal in winter, using the pine skis his father had made.

With time, Sondre became an alpine skiing master, both in terms of dexterity and in terms of skills to develop equipment. He invented skis with curved spatulas to make turns easier, heel bindings, the Telemark turn, and the Christiania spin.

Sondre’s main contribution was that he was the first to use skis as a means to enjoy snow. This is why he is considered to be the father of modern skiing, as he turned skiing into a recreational activity and a sport.

From 1850 onwards, the first skiing races were held around the town of Christiania, which later was renamed Oslo.

In 1888, the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and his expedition companions were the first to cross Greenland on skis. The expedition book was translated into several languages, contributing to the promotion of skiing as a sport in Europe. In his book, Nansen described skiing as "a sport among sports".

In the late 19th century, Mathias Zdarsky (1856-1940), an Austrian ski instructor, developed a new technique called Stem. His teaching method, recorded in the book Lilienfelder Skilauf-Technik, allowed hundreds of Austrians to improve their alpine skiing technique. Zdarsky also reduced the length of skis to facilitate turns and incorporated the first metallic fixings.

Later, another Austrian, Georg Bilgeri (1873-1934), incorporated the idea of using two poles. Until that time, skiers would only use one pole. He also improved on Zdarsky’s fixations. This Austro-Hungarian army colonel published a new skiing technique in 1910 in the book Der Alpine Skilauf. This new technique immediately became very popular in military circles.

From 1870 onwards, the Alpine countries saw the rapid expansion of skiing as a sport with the first competitions held in Germany in 1879, and the foundation of the first Swiss Club in 1893. National Ski Associations were founded in Russia (1896), Czechoslovakia (1903), the United States (1904), Austria and Germany (1905), and Norway, Finland, and Sweden (1908).

The first International Ski Congress was held in Christiania, Norway, in February 1910 with 22 delegates from 10 countries. The Congress concluded with the setting up of an International Ski Commission (CIS) entrusted with the establishment and application of a set of rules for each type of ski competition.

The History of Alpine Skiing and the Alpine Ski World Cup

The ultimate development of Alpine Skiing as a sporting and leisure activity is linked to another Austrian name: Hannes Schneider (1890-1955).

Schneider was responsible for the birth of ski schools and the father of teaching skiing as a discipline. In terms of technique, he invented the Stem Christiania and the Arlberg technique.

In the 1920s, Arnold Fanck's films strongly contributed to the popularity of Hannes Schneider and the Arlberg Technique. In 1926, Fanck and Schneider published Wunder des Schneeschuhs Ein System des richtigen Skilaufens und seine Anwendung im alpinen Geländelauf.

Der Weiße Rausch – one of the first films to incorporate sound – was made in 1931 in Arlberg. The film was extremely innovative in terms of design and the filming techniques used. Still today, the skiing sequences appear to be very modern. In the film, Hannes Schneider appears as a ski instructor who teaches a young woman from Berlin (interpreted by Leni Riefenstahl) how to ski. Both are pursued in a sort of fox hunt by 50 skiers. Some of the other characters were interpreted by Lothar Ebersberg, Guzzi Lantschner, Walter Riml, and Rudi Matt, some of the best instructors at the Arlberg Ski School.

The International Ski Federation (Fédération Internationale de Ski, FIS) was founded on February 2, 1924, in Chamonix, France during the 1924 Semaine internationale des Sports d’hiver in Chamonix including ski jump and Nordic Combined events (on May 6, 1926, the International Olympic Committee decided retroactively to name it as the I Olympic Winter Games). 36 delegates from 14 countries (Great Britain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Yugoslavia, Norway, Poland, Romania, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary, and Italy) founded the FIS, which replaced the former CIS.

Initially, the FIS was only responsible for Nordic skiing. FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 1925 in Janské Lázně, Czechoslovakia, were given status as the first official World Championships. Five years later at the 11th FIS Congress held in Oslo on February 24–26, 1930 was decided to also include Alpine Ski (Downhill, Slalom, and Alpine Combined) in the rules. Great Britain, led by British ski pioneer Arnold Lunn played a major role in the inclusion of Alpine Ski.

In 1927, Arnold Lunn traveled to the Arlberg to meet Hannes Schneider and learn his ski technique, which he had discovered through Arnold Fanck's film.

Lunn's visit had unpredictable consequences. Together with Schneider, he organized the first ski competition in 1928, the Arlberg-Kandahar. The competition was the first to include a Downhill and Slalom event. 45 racers from Austria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States took part. From 1931 until the Second World War, the races were alternately held at Arlberg and Mürren. In 1948, Chamonix became the third host, followed by Sestriere in 1951 and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1954. Until the introduction of the World Cup, the Arlberg-Kandahar races were the most important alpine ski races besides the Winter Olympics and the World Championships.

On February 19–23, 1931 the first FIS Alpine World Ski Championships were held in Mürren, Switzerland.

Alpine skiing was included for the first time in the Olympic Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936, in a Combined format (Downhill and Slalom).

The FIS Alpine Ski World Cup was launched in 1966 by a group of ski racing friends and experts led by French journalist Serge Lang and the Alpine Ski team directors from France Honore Bonnet, and Bob Beattie from the USA. Lang was inspired by the Tour de France and understood the appeal of a winter season-long format for a ski competition.

International Ski Federation president Marc Hodler backed the new season-long, annual competition during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 1966 at Portillo, Chile, and became an official FIS event in the spring of 1967 after the FIS Congress at Beirut, Lebanon.

The inaugural World Cup race was held On January 5, 1967, in Berchtesgaden, West Germany, with a Slalom won by Heinrich Messner of Austria.

The World Cup initially included only Slalom, Giant Slalom, and Downhill races. Alpine Combined events were included in the 1974–1975 winter season. The Super-G event was added to the circuit in the 1982-83 season.

In the winter of 2023-2024, the 58th edition of the main international alpine circuit will be held. The competition will begin in Sölden in October and will end with the finals in Saalbach in March. The best skiers in the world will compete in ninety events across Europe and North America in four disciplines: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G, and Downhill.

*On May 26, 2022, FIS changed its name to International Ski and Snowboard Federation to include snowboarding.

Currently, FIS has a membership of 140 national ski associations and is based in Oberhofen am Thunersee, Switzerland.


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