What would the Finnish winter be without skis and ski races? Throughout their history Finns have journeyed on skis and tested each other on ski trails.

A Finn and a pair of skis is a couple as old as the hills. Petroglyphs from over 5000 years ago display skiing figures. The Finnish word suksi (a ski) is about 4000 years old. Even our national epic the Kalevala includes several mentions of skiing. For instance, when Lemminkäinen starts out on his elk hunt, his skis are said to shoot sparks and smoke is seen to rise from his poles.

Competitive skiing also has a long tradition. Organised ski races in Finland are considered to originate from the Tyrnävä ski race in 1879. Ten years later, an ice skiing event took place on the sea ice near Oulu, and it became, for a long while, the most significant annual skiing event in Finland. It is actually the oldest of its kind in the world and the traditional event is still held still today.

Although the skill of skiing has long been an inseparable part of the Finnish lifestyle, during the 19th century skis started to become part of a disappearing folk tradition in many places. In the modernising Finland skiing was no longer a necessary part of people’s livelihood.

However, losing this element from Finnish culture was prevented when skiing was included as an important part of physical education in folk schools. The Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary had adopted the principle that well-rounded physical activity increases human wellbeing, and physical education became an essential element of the Seminary’s education and teaching. Through the prospective teachers this idea was disseminated and eventually became part of the national mindset. Since then skiing has remained a popular sport and form of physical exercise, and nowadays almost 70 per cent of Finns practice this winter sport.

In winter the Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary held skiing contests between the teaching groups. The group in the picture had themselves photographed in a photographer’s studio in honour of their win on 10 March 1920.

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