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    First Skiers

    By By Mark Jenkins
    November 21, 2013, 5:49:55 AM EST

    The following is an excerpt from National Geographic.

    The hunting party slowly glides into the Altay Mountains in search of elk. It is dead calm, minus 38°F. Just as their ancestors have for millennia, the five men traverse deep, feathery snow buoyed on handmade skis hewed from spruce, with strips of horsehide attached to the bottoms. In lieu of poles each man carries a single wooden staff. Since boyhood, they have learned to master their deceptively crude equipment with exquisite efficiency and grace—the grain of the horsehair providing traction to move uphill and a slick surface for rapid descents, the staff aiding balance. I follow on state-of-the-art telemark skis, using modern poles, but at times still struggle to match their pace. Their lungs and legs seem impervious to the thin alpine air as they stride up even the steepest inclines, exhaling barely discernible wisps of steam that quickly evaporate in the frigid air. Falling into a satisfying rhythm, we slice through the drifts along a copse of birch, then veer left into the shadows of a spruce forest. They don’t speak, the muffled swish of their furry skis as quiet as snowfall.


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