Decoration on the ski is another indicator of the origin, value, and purpose of the ski. There were basically two decorative elements: patterns of lines grooved in front and back of the foot plate, and the crafting of the ski tip. Most of the skis on view in the two major Scandinavian repositories in Oslo, Norway, and Umeå, Sweden, have remarkable lined patterns often with intricately carved drawings, hunting scenes particularly. The care with which the skis were made and the delicacy of the illustrations indicate they played a special role in the culture of survival.

Decoration on the ski is another indicator of the origin

I have not seen any skis in the United States decorated with sophisticated carvings, although I found one report mentioning animal heads on a pair in 1895. 49 There are a few geometric designs but these are simple if compared to some of the Norwegian and Swedish skis.
The tips of skis were given much consideration in Scandinavia. In the Eddas skis were likened to “ships of the snow.”

As the Viking prow cut its swath through the waves, so the ski carved its track through the snow. Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, makes it clear that skis were made with care and given special attributes. Here is Lylikki, ski maker, master artist who

Whittled in the fall his snow-shoes,
Smoothed them in the winter evenings,
One day working on the runners,
All the next day making stick rings,
Till at last the shoes were finished.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Then he fastened well the shoe-straps,
Smooth as adder’s skin the woodwork,
Soft as fox fur were the stick rings,
Oiled he well his wondrous snow-shoes,
With the tallow of the reindeer.

Most of the skis exhibited in museums in the United States are carefully crafted, albeit lacking the decorative embellishments found in the Scandinavian exhibits. Alas, rarely on view are the simple and crude utilitarian skis. They were used in great numbers and are more representative of the early era than the fancy ones displayed for our admiration.

In the 1880s a Coloradan reported, “these skates are of not enough value to be kept from one season to another and you constantly come upon them thrown away by the side of the trail, where the snow goes out toward spring.

Tipped with iron, it was used for pushing along the flat or for going uphill. On the downhill glide it acted as a balance pole. When skiers needed to turn or slow down, they leaned on it. Some straddled it in witchlike fashion when they found themselves on a steep descent.
The single pole is a vestige of Norse hunting, where it doubled as a weapon. Two poles were probably first used by the Finns, but the single pole remained standard equipment into the twentieth century. As late as 1933, when skiing had become a social sport and recreation, the use of a single pole still showed up in the popular literature. For the Basque herdsmen in Idaho, its continued use went unquestioned in the years before the Second World War.

No special boots were used for skiing; normal winter footgear was held to the ski by a leather toe thong nailed to the sides of the ski or slipped through a mortise. Popular in the mountain West but also found elsewhere, a laced leather toe pouch could be adjusted to the width of the boot. Various methods kept the foot from sliding out of the toe hold.

A small wooden block was tacked under the instep or behind the heel on primitive skis. Leather-encased bamboo or even makeshift iron “riggings,” as bindings were frequently called, served the same purpose but most used the loose leather heel strap which was common for decades.

For going uphill, deer or elk skin was tied to the underside of the ski; the pelt prevented sliding backward but allowed the forward glide. A burlap sleeve slipped over the back of the ski or criss-crossing rope served the same purpose of providing traction while climbing.

It was individual ingenuity that accounted for efficient skis. This experimental attitude born of necessity was more usual among those for whom skiing was new rather than a traditional heritage. Once the younger generations had learned from the immigrants what to do, they added their own refinements whether they were in Connecticut, California, or anywhere in between.