BLOKE - THE CRADLE OF SKIING IN CENTRAL EUROPE
Slovenia is Known in the World for Skis
J.V. Valvasor (1641-1693) the first really well known Slovene scientist, reveals the fact that skis were already familiar to the Slovene people in his day. In 1689 he wrote in his famous work "The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola":
"The Peasants of Upper Carniola know of a rare invention of the sort I had never seen anywhere else: in wintertime, when the snow is plentiful, they descend into the valley with incredible speed. For that purpose they take two strips of wood, each a quarter of an inch thick, half a foot wide, and some five feet long. At the front the wooden strips are bent upward; in the middle there are leather straps to put the feet into. One such strip of wood is strapped under each foot. On top of this, the peasants take a stout cudgel into their hands push it under their armpit, bend backward, and use it as if it were some sort of a rudder to slide off, or even fly down the steepest slopes ... no less swift than those who use skates in Holland to glide on ice".
Indeed, Valvasor has thus described on of the truly great Slovene curiosities which are known even nowadays as the skis of Bloke (after a village in Notranjska of that name).
Bloke - The Cradle of skiing in central Europe
Bloke plateau, situated 43 kilometres south-east of Ljubljana lends its name to the so-called Bloke climate. Strong winds and long, rainy winters are typical of it along with continental and alpine elements. These conditions forced people to use skis because this was the only way to travel down to the valley.
There are many theories about the origin of Bloke skis. But since it is known that the first skis in the world come from Korea., the suggestion that skiing was invented in Bloke is simply untrue. The most likely explanation is that Bloke skis are part of the old Slav heritage, which implies that skis were introduced in Slovenia by old Slavs in approximately the year 600 AD.
Bloke skis are one of the most important aspects of Slovene culture. They were usually made from pieces of beech wood , which were 130 to 180 centimetres long. The edges were skimmed and a "stirrup" made from string, wire or leather was used as a binding. The bindings were pushed through holes on the ski or nailed onto the sides. Skiers adjusted the stirrups according to their shoes and they were fastened in front of the ski's centre of the gravity. That meant they were weighted at the back which was essential for the cross-country skiing method. This way skis served as a mode of transport when there was lots of snow. To go down the hill skiers used a stick, which they put under their armpit and used to stear and brake.
But people from Bloke also had fun on their skis. Various games and competitions were organised. The biggest celebration of them all was Halloween Tuesday, the holiday of all "skaters" as everybody called the skiers. The people in Bloke believed skating and jumping a lot on this day would improve the harvest of buckwheat, turnip and flax.
Skiing started to die out in Bloke after the First World War, when modern sport skiing started to develop in Slovenia. The Italian occupation of these areas during the Second World War killed off Bloke's old ski culture because the enemy confiscated all skis.
It is interesting that skiing did not spread from the plateau during that time even though skis were used for all functions which demanded movement - including funerals. Longer and shorter skis, kept by one family in the village, were used to transfer the coffin. They also knew games and races which suggests that their skiing was the start of sport skiing.
Apart from that skiing in Bloke did not influence the development of skiing today in Slovenia. But it did have a huge publicity effect and it is one reason that modern skiing is so popular in Slovenia.
Dušan Čater, Flaneur 1994