Skitouring and ski mountaineering–novelty or return to the tradition?

30 October 2016

Both skitouring and skis mountaineering, in their modern form, are new ways of active leisure in Poland. They came to Poland from Western Europe in the nineties. Prior to that, for years, skis mountaineering equipment was owned exclusively by GOPR (Mountain Volunteer Search and Rescue) and TOPR (Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue), guides or other person professionally connected with the mountains.

The first ski mountaineering competition was held in Slovakia in the seventies. In Poland, the first competition took place in 1989. However, the Polish Cup in ski mountaineering has been organized only since 2001.Nowadays, more and more often you can meet people, traveling across Polish mountains on skins. The equipment, which used to be only domain of experts, has become a common tourist facility. Open competitions have been organized and from season 2008/2009 Polish Amateur Cup in ski mountaineering takes place regularly.

But is skitouring something really completely new? For many years the skins were used for walking. In fact, in the days prior to the ski lift being widespread, each skier was ski mountaineering whether he/she wanted it or not. In order to ride downhill, first he had to climb on every hill on his/her own.

History of the ski mountaineering has as many years as the history of skiing in general. In Poland, goes back to the nineteenth century. Władysław Klęczyński Junior and Martin Kozłecki in 1891 were the first skiers on our side of the Tatra mountains, or three years later, Stanisław Barabasz and John Fischer, who reached the lake- Czarny Staw Gąsienicowy. However, on the Slovak side in 1886 Archduke Joseph was going on ski tours.

The first documented ski pass was made, by a woman- Hungarian mountaineer Terez Egenhoffer, 15 years later.
The ascent of Howerla (the highest peak in the Beskids) and of Chomiak by the foresters Joseph Schnaider and Marian Małczyński in 1897 were the first one in the history. In the earliest stages of the development of skiing, tours that were held, now can be classified as ski mountaineering. The first trails were easy, the used equipment was primitive, neither riding techniques were known, nor the reality of the mountains in winter; people were excessively afraid of any danger.

The ascent of the Kopa Kondracka Pass in 1902 by Stanisław Barabasz, John Joseph Fischer and Dr. Kuliński, was the starting point for more daring, ski achievements, with the main aim - tourism and exploration of the Tatra Mountains. The major peaks and passes have been ascended, more technically difficult downhill rides have been made. Skiing technique has improved, the quality of the equipment, the knowledge of the mountains and winter dangers therein.

At the same time, at the beginning of the last century, the first ski organizations were formed and publications about the sport appeared. Safety in the mountains has increased because of Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue. The downhill ride of Mariusz Zaruski and Stanisław Zdyb from Kościelec in 1911 is considered as the first achievement in extreme skiing.

After World War I there was a further development of the described discipline. Ski-tourism was extremely popular, new extreme descents were made, also the first competition were organized. Bronisław Czech was the most famous representative of a new sport in the interwar period. The situation has changed with creation of the first ski lifts before World War II.

After the war, skiing on prepared trails began to dominate, while ski mountaineering became a separate discipline, which has lost its importance in Poland.
Nowadays more and more people, tired of mass ski mountaineering and longing for contact with nature and not wanting to walk on foot in the snow to their waist, come back to this form of active leisure. Tradition combined with modern technologies gives new possibilities for ski mountaineering. It is worth trying!

Aleksandra Dzik