A local resident in the Altay prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region skiing uses homemade skis. VCG
The Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics saw many excellent athletes compete on the ice and snow, prompting an enthusiasm for winter sports in China. In fact, the country has had a deep relationship with winter sports since ancient times, with skiing originating in the Altay prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
In 2005, cave paintings of Altay people hunting on skis with poles were discovered, which archaeologists estimated could be more than 10,000 years old. Since then, Altay has been recognized by many as one of the birthplaces of skiing, according to Xinhua.
As one of the richest collections of ancient rock art in China, there are herds of camels, sheep, wolves and human figures. The painting on the roof of a cave in Dundebulake village of Altay prefecture depicts humans on skis, bending their knees as they travel alongside animals, including deer and moose.
The rock art in Dundebulake is well preserved because the pictographs are well hidden in the cave.
Additionally, Altay’s dry climate has been a useful preserving agent, according to a 2016 research paper published by the Hebei Normal University.
Unique geographical and climatic conditions make skiing an indispensable part of local people’s lives. The climate in Altay is mild and not too windy, so skiers are less affected by weather conditions, allowing them to safely move faster.
Unlike the modern skis we use nowadays, fur skis have been used as a means of transportation for the snowfield inhabitants of Altay for more than 100 centuries, according to rock carvings uncovered in the area.
Making skis has been a traditional skill. The handmade skis have a layer of horse skin. The fur on the horse skin can help decrease friction when they slide down the hill, while the skis also prevent skiers from falling when they walk up. At the same time, they have a wooden stick in hand to keep balance, according to China Daily.
Fur ski competitions have been held annually by the local government. Many locals would display their maneuvers at the competitions.