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Last of the First Skiers
March 3, 2014
by Jonas Bendiksen
In the far northern corner of Xinjiang province, in the Altai mountains, one can find the last remnants of an ancient culture. The area is populated by a mix of ethnic Kazakhs, Mongolians and Tuwas, who handmake their own wooden skis in the same way as their forefathers thousands of years ago. Archeological finds indicate that this region might possibly be the origin of skiing, with a ski history that surpasses northern European countries.

For thousands of years, the skis have been used to hunt elk, bear and other animals, and only a few skiers still know these ancient winter hunting skills. The skis, with horse-hair skins underneath to give traction on the uphill, shows what skis might have looked like in centuries past. With modernity approaching with new winter roads, internet and access to cities, the ancient skills are likely to die out quickly. In January 2013, Jonas Bendiksen went to document the ways of these ancient skiers. He had the rare privilege to join their skiing and hunting trips, and to follow see the making of these traditional skis.