The oldest ski in the world

Owe is not using modern forest skis. Instead, he uses a pair of real Kalvträsk skis. Not the original of course, but a pair of replicas that he built in his workshop. The only thing differing between Owe’s replicas and the original is the binding...

THE KALVTRÄSKSKI - OLDEST CROSS_COUNTRY SKI IN THE WORLD

To say that cross-country skiing was invented in the area around Skellefteå might not be entirely true. However, no one can dispute the fact that the oldest ski in the world was found in a marsh just outside the small village of Kalvträsk.

In past years, ditching was as natural as stump pulling and haymaking. Ditches were dug to increase available farmland and to improve forest growth. In 1924 three men, Josef, Hugo and Tyko, were ditching a wetland area near the lake Fäbodträsket.
– They had no idea what they were going to find when they started digging that morning, says Owe with a grin.

In addition to being our guide, Owe is also a skiing enthusiast and a Kalvträsk resident since childhood.
– The ski that they found turned out to have  been in the marsh for nearly 5,200 years, making it the oldest preserved ski to be found in the world, to this day.

PERFECT SNOW CRUST CONDITIONS

We move across the white winter landscape at just the right speed. We travel on wide forest skis that carry well even on loose snow. The place of the find lies approximately three kilometres from the village. This is where we’re going.
– The original ski was 204 centimetres long and just over 15 wide, says Owe.
The ski pole, it had a shovel-like shape at the bottom, it was round at the top and measured 156 centimetres. According to Ove, the most obvious differences to the skis of today is the fact that the Kalvträsk ski had no tips.

– It must’ve been difficult to manoeuvre unless the snow carried well.
Today’s conditions however, are good enough to carry us practically anywhere.

SIBERIAN CONNECTION

Owe is not using modern forest skis. Instead, he uses a pair of real Kalvträsk skis. Not the original of course, but a pair of replicas that he built in his workshop. The only thing differing between Owe’s replicas and the original is the binding.
– I ran out of time so I had to opt for an emergency solution, says Owe, excusing his ‘snowshoe bindings’.

The original, however, had leather strap bindings. Bindings of the same kind that have been found in Siberia.
– This could indicate some kind of connection between Kalvträsk and the Russian forests.
Cave paintings of skiers, 14,000 years old, have been found in Altai. Maybe that’s how we once got here. Skiing through Siberia?

THE WORLD’S OLDEST

No matter how you look at it, the Kalvträsk ski is impressively old. It’s older than both the Egyptian pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon. This preservation of the world’s oldest ski throughout the millennia has a lot to do with the composition of the marshland.
– Deep down in the marsh, oxygen levels are incredibly low, meaning that the process of decay is almost completely halted, says Owe.

Originally, there were two skis but one fell to pieces as the skis were being moved from the place of the find. Today, the intact ski and the pole are on display at the Västerbotten County Museum in Umeå.
– If you’re happy to see a replica, you can visit us here in Kalvträsk. In addition to being the location of the find, the village is home to a small museum dedicated to the Kalvträsk ski — Kalvträsk Historiska Museum.

A LASTING IMPRESSION

We proceed slowly. Owe is happy to stop and tell stories. About the Kalvträsk ski, about the olden days, about the place. Previous skiing experience is not a bad asset, but hardly required for a successful tour.
– Kalvträsk is a place with proud skiing traditions, says Owe.
In 1963, the first Kalvträskloppet (the Kalvträsk Race) was organised in the region. A 60 kilometre ski run starting in Kalvträsk and finishing in Burträsk. The race was organised every year between 1963 and 2004.

When we arrive at the scene of the find, the storytelling rings out. Owe calmly makes a fire and puts the soot pot (pot for boiling coffee over open fire) in place. He serves sausage sandwiches and homemade wheat buns.
– Of course, he then says, it’s far from certain that us Kalvträsk people would’ve been what we are today if not for the fact that Josef, Hugo and Tyko decided to frost ditch the marsh by Fäbodträsket on that morning almost 90 years ago.