Every sport has its hallowed ground - for cricket fans it's Lord's, for tennis lovers it's Wimbledon. For snow sports it's Holmenkollen in Norway, home, not just to the famous ski jump, but also to the world's oldest ski museum.
Founded in 1923, before being relocated in 1951 to its current position under the ski jump, the museum's collection includes 2500 pairs of skis, ski equipment from the polar expeditions of Nansen and Amundsen, and a library of books related to winter sports. As an avid skier, ever-pining for winter to come, the museum is just the ticket for a mid-summer excursion.
I board the metro from Oslo's Central station for the 30-minute trip, the city's arty parks and hipster hangouts giving way to a swathe of birch and spruce. The scenery is shadowy and endless, a prelude to a landscape forged by millions of years of tectonic forces.
It was the Sami, the northernmost indigenous people of Europe, who learned to cross this glacial landscape by strapping themselves to pieces of birch. A rock carving in Alta on Norway's northern coast shows a skier hunting an elk some 4000 years ago.
Alighting from the train and gazing up at the ski jump, which soars above the mountainside like some futuristic swamp creature, it's hard to equate the Sami's simple petroglyphs with the sport of today.
The well-structured, interactive museum tracks the sport's evolution from the first ski competition held in Tromso in northern Norway in 1843 to the rise of snowboarding. Changing exhibitions highlight the creativity expressed by skiers and boarders, the threat of climate change and the mystical world of trolls and gnomes, so ingrained in Norwegian culture.
Ski design during the 1800s was a product of necessity and geography. While one cabinet shows fur-clad skis favoured by coastal dwellers, another shows stocks (poles) equipped with spear points for hunting bears. Stocks crafted from ash, inlaid with bone and fitted with a handy drinking cup illustrate Sami ingenuity.
Recreational skiing was well underway by the mid-1850s, but Fridtjof Nansen's successful crossing of Greenland on skis in 1888 fueled the Norwegian public's pride and interest. By 1897 Fritz Huitfeldt patented his famous bindings, a quantum leap giving skiers the freedom to go higher, faster and further. Once King Haakon and Queen Maud strapped on skis in 1905, becoming "one with their people", skiing was quickly established as Norway's national sport.
Since the first ski jumping competition was held at Holmenkollen in 1892, on a crude jump made from branches and snow, the Holmenkollen ski jump has stood as a symbol of the nation's domination of the sport. Redeveloped 18 times (most recently in 2011 in preparation for the World Championships) the current Holmenkollen record is 144 metres, set in 2019 by Norway's Robert Johansson, aka the Flying Moustache.
From the museum I head to the observation deck at the top of the tower. While I'm content to enjoy a bird's eye view of the jump, others unleash their inner Eddy the Eagle with a zip-line ride to the bottom.
A sign on the museum wall sums it up – "Ski and snowboard is not just a sport and activity, it is a lifestyle. It's thinking outside the box and pushing limits."
Thai Airways flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Oslo via Bangkok. See thaiaiways.com
Entrance to the Holmenkollen Ski Museum and tower costs NOK 140, or is included with the Oslo Pass. Open 365 days a year it is a 10-minute walk from Holmenkollen station via Metro 1. See skiforeningen.no
Kerry van der Jagt travelled as a guest of Lindblad Expeditions