Photos: In China, preserving skiing’s origins with traditional horse-hide skis

In Atlay, possibly the oldest skiing site in the world, the tradition of using horse-hide skis and leather is giving way to modern skis. With the 2022 Winter Olympics coming to Beijing, China wants to cash in on this historical link by getting 300 million Chinese engaged in winter sports.

Updated On Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST 10 Photos
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Slanbek, 63, a ski craftsman tests horse-hide skis in the outskirts of Altay, China. For much of the year, skiing is the only way to get around Khom, a village of wooden cabins, five hours’ drive from the nearest major town in Xinjiang. Cave paintings here lay a claim to the origin of skiing, much older than Russia’s and the government is keen to cash in on it, before the practice dies out. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Slanbek, 63, a ski craftsman tests horse-hide skis in the outskirts of Altay, China. For much of the year, skiing is the only way to get around Khom, a village of wooden cabins, five hours’ drive from the nearest major town in Xinjiang. Cave paintings here lay a claim to the origin of skiing, much older than Russia’s and the government is keen to cash in on it, before the practice dies out. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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The design of skis here has barely changed for centuries. The bottoms are covered with horse-hide and shoes are tied on with leather rope. The direction of the horse fur allows the skis to slide forward, while preventing them from slipping backward when travelling uphill. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

The design of skis here has barely changed for centuries. The bottoms are covered with horse-hide and shoes are tied on with leather rope. The direction of the horse fur allows the skis to slide forward, while preventing them from slipping backward when travelling uphill. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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Cave paintings discovered in Altay show rows of figures standing on what look like skis, with herds of animals running below them. Archaeologists have dated the paintings as 10,000 to 30,000 years old, according to ski historian Shan Zhaojian. This dates them much older than findings in Russia, cited by the International Ski Federation, the sport’s governing body, as coming from 6,300 to 5,000 BC. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Cave paintings discovered in Altay show rows of figures standing on what look like skis, with herds of animals running below them. Archaeologists have dated the paintings as 10,000 to 30,000 years old, according to ski historian Shan Zhaojian. This dates them much older than findings in Russia, cited by the International Ski Federation, the sport’s governing body, as coming from 6,300 to 5,000 BC. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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Sulita heads out into a winter morning with his traditional horse-hide skis in Khom. “I’ve been up the highest mountains with these,” Sulita said. “When I was young, we used the horse-hide skis a lot, for hunting or if we lost a cow or sheep.” China is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and wants 300 million Chinese involved in winter sports before then. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Sulita heads out into a winter morning with his traditional horse-hide skis in Khom. “I’ve been up the highest mountains with these,” Sulita said. “When I was young, we used the horse-hide skis a lot, for hunting or if we lost a cow or sheep.” China is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and wants 300 million Chinese involved in winter sports before then. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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Forty minutes outside Altay city, the regional capital, Slanbek still makes traditional skis, but today they are just for show. “You can’t hunt anymore, you can’t cut down trees so there’s not much use for them,” he said, referring to official bans on both practices. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Forty minutes outside Altay city, the regional capital, Slanbek still makes traditional skis, but today they are just for show. “You can’t hunt anymore, you can’t cut down trees so there’s not much use for them,” he said, referring to official bans on both practices. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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Mieergenku, 12, stands by a door of a log cabin next to his traditional handmade horse-hide skis. The Xinjiang autonomous region government has organised races using traditional skis and recognises skiing as a cultural heritage. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Mieergenku, 12, stands by a door of a log cabin next to his traditional handmade horse-hide skis. The Xinjiang autonomous region government has organised races using traditional skis and recognises skiing as a cultural heritage. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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A road to Khom village of Altay in Altai Mountains. But much of Altay has embraced modern skiing. At the General’s Mountain resort, Mongolian folk-metal and Adele blast out over loudspeakers as children as young as five zip down the slopes. Abundant snow and mountains make this region one of the country’s best places for skiing and instructors hope some of the children training here might become Olympians. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

A road to Khom village of Altay in Altai Mountains. But much of Altay has embraced modern skiing. At the General’s Mountain resort, Mongolian folk-metal and Adele blast out over loudspeakers as children as young as five zip down the slopes. Abundant snow and mountains make this region one of the country’s best places for skiing and instructors hope some of the children training here might become Olympians. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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Alimase skis down in Altai mountains, Khom village of Altay. Whether the use of horse-hide skis survives will depend on the younger generation in the remote villages around Khom. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Alimase skis down in Altai mountains, Khom village of Altay. Whether the use of horse-hide skis survives will depend on the younger generation in the remote villages around Khom. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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As the sun peeks over the mountains into valleys around Khom, Namujel, 13, races his horse-hide skis against his neighbour and friend Mieergenku, 12, who is using modern skis.The race begins and there’s no competition. Mieergenku zooms past, the clear winner. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

As the sun peeks over the mountains into valleys around Khom, Namujel, 13, races his horse-hide skis against his neighbour and friend Mieergenku, 12, who is using modern skis.The race begins and there’s no competition. Mieergenku zooms past, the clear winner. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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But for Namujel, returning home here, it doesn’t matter. “We can’t just give up on the horse-hair skis, we have to pass them on to the next generation”, he said. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

But for Namujel, returning home here, it doesn’t matter. “We can’t just give up on the horse-hair skis, we have to pass them on to the next generation”, he said. (Jason Lee / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 08, 2018 10:23 AM IST
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