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Photo: Fredrik Schenholm/

In the 1850s, one man laid the foundation for
modern skiing

In skiing, few have been further ahead of the curve than Telemark native Sondre Norheim, an innovator hailing from Øvrebø in Morgedal during the first half of the 1800s.

Today, he is being celebrated in this new clip produced by Visit Telemark, wherein Trym Nygaard Løken and Mathilde Olsen from the Norwegian national telemark team demonstrate the differences – and similiarities – between telemark skis then and now.


As you might gather from the video, the story of Sondre Norheim is the story of a pioneer.

Norheim was a restless and ski loving man who kept getting annoyed by the construction of the skis he and his contemporaries were using for the downhill sport of telemark skiing. So, in the 1850s, he made an important change to the binding of the skis.

Instead of just fastening the toes in front, he added a binding for the heel to keep the ski from slipping off his foot even during long jumps or hard turns.

In addition, he cut his wooden skis so they would curve slightly inward towards the middle, making them easier to turn.

The results impressed an entire nation.

In 1868, the first national skiing championships were held in Oslo (or Christiania, as the city was named back then). A 43 year old Sondre turned up, only to find himself victorious in the face of over 50 other (and mostly younger) competitors.

“Out of everyone there, the winner was a standout, high above the rest. There is something very peculiar about his way with the skis, such that you might think it to be his innate and natural method of movement,” Norwegian newspaper Aftenbladet wrote back then.

Norheims competitors were inspired. They brought his innovations back home and swiftly replicated them. As is written on the web pages of West Telemark Museum:

“The so-called telemark ski, with the sides curving inward, became the prototype for all later skis.”

Norheim soon found his status elevated to that of a national skiing hero, but in 1884 he nevertheless decided on pursuing a new adventure.

Along with his wife Rannei, he emigrated to the US, 59 years old, at first spending time in Minnesota before becoming settlers in North Dakota.

Those who wish to learn more about Sondre Norheim can visit his homestead in Morgedal, the place of his birth.

In Morgedal, you will also find Norwegian Ski Museum Morgedal, where you can see demonstrations of old school ski making by axe as well as multimedia presentations of 4000 years of history, capped off by today’s innovators from Telemark – snowboard- and twintip-heroes like Terje Håkonsen and Andreas Håtveit.

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