Between spring corn turns on Mt. Washington and leftovers at Stowe and Smuggs’, we’re working toward publishing our 100th issue and celebrating 20 years of Backcountry Magazine. Can you believe it? Well, since we can’t put our beers together with celebratory cheer, we’ve unearthed early editions of the mag, dug through them and pulled stories, photos, quotes, gear relics and more for your enjoyment. Here’s the first of many 20th-anniversary throwbacks. —The Editors
[From the February 2005 issue]
Granted, what we’ve got here looks like planked road kill. But if this pelt is past its prime, there’s a cause: it dates from somewhere between the 11th and 12th centuries and was retrieved—attached to a ski—from northern Norway.
Modern Norway may be the land of Extra Blue and Cera F, but before waxes and klisters were brewed (which succeeded a slather of pine tar for traction), when it came to covering ground, it was a skin game—one that allowed hunters to get closer to prey with their silent running, skinned skis. Seals, reindeer, moose, all were recruited. Cows could be used in a pinch, but the shorter hair of calves was better. While skins from the likes of moose or reindeer tended to absorb water in mild weather, sealskin was good because of its high grease content that prevented the buildup of moisture and snow in rain-to-snow-and-back conditions prevalent along Norway’s northern coast.
Skiers often went with a single skin on a short “push” ski, and with a longer skinless “glide” ski on the other foot. This was the rig of choice both for hunters and for the military during Norway’s ongoing war with Sweden in the 19th century.
Forget tip loops and tail clips. Skins were attached in a number of labor-intensive ways. They could be sewed on with sinews on the edge of the skis, laced up like leggings over the ski’s topside, glued, or locked down by plugs fitted into holes in the ski. Occasionally, ski tips were decorated—as seen here—with wooly tassels or pieces of cloth, maybe in celebration of concluding the attachment hassle. And it’s a good bet that given the way the skins went on, no one was ripping hides at the top of every long downhill. —J.D.