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Preserving skiing's origins in China's remote west

Preserving skiing's origins in China's remote west
From Al Jazeera - February 7, 2018

On the western edge of China, Sulita straps on his skis and heads out into a winter morning. The temperature is -30 degrees Celsius.

For much of the year, skiing is the only way to get around Khom, a village of wooden cabins heated by earthen stoves, five hours' drive from the nearest major town in the northern Altay region of Xinjiang province.

The design of skis used by Sulita, who like many people in this region uses just one name, has barely changed for centuries. The bottoms are covered with horsehide and the boots tied on with leather rope.

The direction of the horse fur helps the skis slide forward while preventing them from slipping backwards when travelling uphill.

"I have been up the highest mountains with these," Sulita said. "When I was young, we used the horsehide skis a lot for hunting, or if we lost a cow or sheep."

Steeped in tradition

Cave paintings discovered in Altay - home to a mixture of ethnic Tuvans and Kazakhs - show rows of figures standing on what look like skis, with herds of animals running below them.

Archaeologists have dated the cave paintings as being between 10,000 and 30,000 years old, according to Chinese ski historian Shan Zhaojian.

That would make them much older than archaeological finds of skis in Russia - cited by the International Ski Federation, the sports governing body - as being from 6,300 to 5,000 BC.

"It's the earliest in the world that's for sure," said Shan. "I have got a total of 10 pieces of evidence that can prove this."

'Not much use'

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