High in the Tafjordfjella mountains, Valdemar skied across the slope of the one called Digervarden, following the cairns marking the trail to his destination. He had seen no other people yet this late winter morning, not even a hunter. Heavy snowfall last night hid the path from view along with the tracks of yesterday’s travelers. Without the piles of rocks to guide him, he risked losing his way in this vast wilderness. His skis were old and worn. He’d had to repair them recently but they were still functional, so there was no need for him to make a new pair, at least for now.
Herds of reindeer were usually abundant in this region, but they were scarce this year. The men of his clan hadn’t had a successful hunt since last Spring. Valdemar had spotted a wolverine down along the tree line not long after sunrise. An eagle soared above, searching for prey. A rumbling, like distant thunder, grabbed his immediate attention. Instinctively, he looked uphill. An avalanche had started near the peak of the mountain. Valdemar’s heart pounded as he began skiing as fast as he could to escape the mass sliding quickly down towards him.
Norwegian archaeologists began looking for artifacts in the mountains several years ago when they realized historical artifacts lost for centuries were being revealed as the ice receded under the pressure of a warming climate. In 2014 they found a single 1,300 year old ski on Mount Digervarden in the Reinheimen National Park, nearly 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level. The binding, which fastened the owner’s foot to the ski, featured a leather strap to hold the heel in place and a piece of twisted birch to hold the front of the foot. Several inches of the back of the ski were missing. In total, it was 170 cm (66.9 inches) long and 15 cm (5.9 inches) wide at the widest point. This was a very exciting find. Although much older skis had been found in other parts of the world, none still had their bindings. This was evidence of how ancient Norsemen attached skis to their feet, allowing authentic recreations of skis to be made and used for research purposes.
The archaeologic team revisited the site regularly, keeping track of the melting, receding ice, hoping to find the matching ski. Seven years later, in September of this year, the found it! The pair of skis were located within 5 meters (16 feet) of each other, but the second ski was 4-5 meters (13-16 feet) deeper under the ice, which the scientist think explains why the second ski was better preserved. The second find is complete with a leather heel strap and three pieces of twisted birch attached to the binding, demonstrating that the first ski most likely also had three pieces of twisted birch for the binding. The hand-made skis are not perfectly identical. The second ski found measures 187 cm long and 17 cm wide: 17 cm longer and 2 cm wider than the first ski. This difference may be due in part to the depth they were buried.
The research team have identified a number of stone cairns near where the skis were found, which may indicate an ancient mountain trail. They suppose the owner of the skis was a traveler or a hunter or possibly both. Why the skis were left or how they got there is a mystery. One possibility is the skier was the victim of an avalanche. Another possibility is they were left behind when the binding broke, but this seems less likely.
This pair of skis are the only complete pair of ancient skis with bindings ever found. It took thirteen centuries before the pair of skis lost on Mount Digervarden were found. They’ll continue to monitor the site to see if anything else turns up.
Note that the first two paragraphs are fiction based on the facts outlined in the successive paragraphs. Valdemar (not the skier’s real name) was chosen from a list of more than 5,100 old Norse names in an attempt to provide a degree of authenticity for the very, very short story.
“The Skis That Came In From The Cold” (2:02)
“The Best-Preserved Pair of Skis from Prehistory” (4:19)