First skis imported to Czech lands 130 years ago

The history of Czech skiing actually dates back five years earlier, to January 5, 1887, when local skiing pioneer Josef Rössler-Ořovský used Wenceslas Square in Prague for his first ski run.

But it is the picturesque town of Jilemnice, located at the foot of the Giant Mountains, which is considered the birthplace of Czech skiing.

It was here, in the winter of 1892, that Count Harrach imported the first skis for his foresters to facilitate their travels in the snowy terrain during the harsh winter months.

John Harrach |  Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Jan Luštinec, director of a local museum, explains that contrary to popular belief, the first skis were not imported from Norway, but from neighboring Austria:

“Count Jan visited Norway and reportedly saw skis on display in Oslo. Back in Bohemia, he instructed his forestry administration to order the first two pairs of skis from Austria.

“One was made by the Vienna-based company Thonet, which still exists today, while the other pair came from ski manufacturer Gansterer in Theeneberg, central Austria.”

The Harrachov forestry administration then handed over the two pairs of imported skis to local craftsmen. Based on the Austrian model, they began to manufacture their own skis.

While imported skis cost more than 11 Guldens, which was a huge sum for the time, local manufacturers made them for half the price, says Luštinec.

Josef Rössler-Ořovský (centre) |  Photo: public domain

“When forestry workers received their first pair of skis, they had to practice riding them. It actually happened right here in Jilemnice, near the castle park, right in the center of town.

“Curious people came to see the forestry workers rolling in the snow. But in fact, it didn’t take long for them to take the hit and mount the skis without falling.

From this moment, skiing takes off and spreads rapidly in the region. Skis were used not only by loggers, game wardens and other inhabitants of the mountainous region, but also by sports enthusiasts, who simply enjoyed the adrenaline rush during the descent.

They also tested other types of skis, such as Lapland skis, which were over three meters long with huge spatulas, but they soon discovered that they were not suitable for the hilly terrain of the Monts des Monts. Giants, says Luštinec:

“Of course, such skis didn’t work here, so we ended up sticking with Telemark skis, which later evolved into downhill and cross-country skis, as we know them today.”

Berta D. Wells