Shimer College

March 30, 2014

Bev Thurber, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Natural Sciences, publishes article on Skis and Skates

“The Similarity of Bone Skates and Skis” in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia


During the age of the sagas, two technologies for winter travel were available: skis
and bone skates. While skis are clearly referred to in old Norse literature, references to bone ice­skates are rare. This conflicts with the archaeological evidence, which shows that both technologies were in use. An analysis of the relevant texts, focusing on the boasting contest in Magnússona saga, leads to the conclusion that bone skates were considered close relatives of skis. This is supported by two additional similarities between the two: the use of a single pole and the similar gliding motions of skaters and skiers. Both motions can be described using skríða, the function of which is analysed. This helps to explain why references to bone skates are rare in old Norse literature and can be used to clarify two passages in the Poetic Edda.

Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, 9 (2013), 197–214