Evolution of Skiing – The First Competitions

The stunning vista of Dundret towers over the landscape, and the birthplace of skiing isn’t far away.

The twin cities of Gällivare-Malmberget are just a few kilometers from Jokkmokk, where the first official Swedish ski competition took place. Nordenskiöldsloppet, as it was called, was held in 1884, and it was predominantly local Sami people who traversed its 220 kilometers.

The race’s organizer, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, wanted the Sami to participate in order to showcase how quickly one could travel using skis, which he himself had done during his first Greenland expedition, and which many around the world doubted could be done so well.

The Sami, since time immemorial, had been developing ski techniques during the pursuit of bears and wolves, who were always a threat to the reindeer herds the Sami kept. They would now have to prove that Nordenskiöld (born in Helsinki in 1832) was right.

He found two Sami in the nearby Sami village of Tuorpon: the renowned wolf and bear hunter Pavva Lars Nilsson Tuorda, and his neighbour Anders Rassa, who were both members of Nordenskiöld’s second Greenland expedition. They were both seriously seasick during the Atlantic voyage, but were still able to ski with their customary speed through Greenland’s wide open spaces.

Unbelievably fast, the two Sami were said to have travelled 460 kilometers in 57 hours, with only four hours of rest!

Nordenskiöld, the scientist, related this story, but both the English and German press doubted him. Even Frithiof Nansen, the Norwegian polar scientist, found it hard to believe. The only person who believed the story of the incredibly fast Sami was the Swedish king Oscar II, who gave them both beautiful medals.

Despite this, there were still plenty of people who doubted the veracity of the story. Therefore, Nordenskiöld needed proof. He concluded that there should be a race, with conditions as close as possible to the ones encountered during the Greenland expedition. Which is to say, trackless territory over a long and demanding distance.

It was decided that the Jokkmokk to Kvikkjokk stretch (220 kilometers there and back) would be perfect.

The race started in Purkijaurholmen, 15 kilometers west of Jokkmokk, on April 3rd, 1884. The course followed the long lake system of the Lule River.

Around 30 participants were registered, but only eighteen showed up for the race, most of whom were Sami from Lapland. There were also six new settlers to the area who wanted to test their strength against the Sami.

The competitors were tenacious and persistent, starting five hours late after delays due to bad weather. The race is described as one of the most demanding competitions in sports history.

The first prize in the race was 200 crowns, an enormous amount of money at the time and a fitting reward for such a difficult task. The skier who came first to the halfway point in Kvikkjokk also received 50 crowns, the “sprint prize” of the time.

Out of the skiers who were part of Nordenskiöld’s second Greenland expedition, only Pavva Lasse Tuorda took part. Anders Rassa wasn’t feeling well, and he had previously stated that he wouldn’t compete for money.

On heavy, long (between two and three meters) skis with simple leather bindings, the racers took off.

Five contestants never made it past the 20 kilometer point, expending all their energy in the loose, blowing powder. The remaining competitors skied on into the night, and received coffee and water once they reached Granudden, halfway to Kvikkjokk. In the lead at this point were Pavva Lasse Tuorda, Per-Olof Amundsson Läntha, Nils-Petter Tuorda and Apmut Ahrman. When they came to the halfway point in Kvikkjokk, Nils-Petter Tuorda had quit from exhaustion, leaving three men at the head of the pack.

After a quick meal in the rectory at Kvikkjokk, the long way back to Jokkmokk still remained before the race was over. Just before five o’clock, a false start saw Läntha take the lead, to the annoyance of Tuorda and Ahrman, the settler and powerful amateur skier.

However, they were determined to catch up to Läntha, and they made significant gains, making the final 20 kilometers to the goal in Purkijaur neck and neck.

Ahrman’s strength began to flag, and he felt that a nip from a flask of moonshine might give him the boost he needed. Predictably, this had the opposite effect, and he was quickly tired. This narrowed the lead down to Per-Olof Läntha and Pavva Lasse Tuorda, who struggled all the harder.

After twenty-one hours of waiting, the spectators in Purkijaur caught a glimpse of the two frontrunners in the distance. The two Sami fought hard, and approached the finish line in tandem. Suddenly, Läntha stooped to fix a broken binding. This gave Pavva Lasse the opening he needed, and he surged forward to win the contest.

The winning time was 21 hours and 22 minutes for the 220 kilometer long contest, with an 80 minute break in the middle. It was much faster than the Greenland times Nordenskiöld had claimed, and so many had doubted. The polar explorer had proven his claims, and the international press were quick to publish the results.

Pavva Lasse Tuorda was the proud winner, but there were ten other finishers who were also hailed as champions and local heroes.

The first competition generated a lot of interest in the surrounding areas. The Sami and the settlers were the first, but interest in skiing quickly spread throughout Norrbotten, and from there, to the rest of Sweden.

Håkan Svensson (text)


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