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  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Thought to be the origin of skiing, the Altai mountains stand tall in the far northern corner of the Xinjiang Province, China. The area is populated by a mix of ethnic Kazakhs, Mongolians, and Tuwas, who handmake wooden skis the same way their forefathers did thousands of years ago. Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen visited the area in 2013 and found that remnants of the first skiers live on.

    Photo: Serik using his skis as an anchor while battling an elk in the traditional Altai way, which has been practiced for thousands of years. The skiers run the animal into deep snow, where it gets stuck, and they have chance to deploy their leather hide ropes. This animal was later let loose by the skiers.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Batwulza flying down a mountainside. Skiers in the area use a single wooden staff, as opposed to the modern two-pole technique, and the base of their handcrafted skis have horse-hides permanently attached for traction.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Batwulza chopping firewood while on skis. Deep snow and below-freezing temperatures often make skis the best method of transportation.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    A small village in the upper Altai, Xinjiang Province where a few hundred Kazakhs and Tuwans live. In local tradition, the three days after the Chinese New Year involve continuous festivities, during which men have an archery competition, drink, and eat meat.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Outside the village of Hkom, a horseman tries to free his animal that is stuck in deep powder snow. When the snow is too loose and deep, horses cannot move beyond prepared paths—thus the traditional need for skis.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Twenty-four-year-old Tursin; his wife, Wurla; and their son Eneral at home. Tursin is an expert skier and ski-maker.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Tursin (right) bends the ski tip upwards while making a new pair of wooden skis. He fells a red spruce tree in the woods and immediately uses an axe to plane the logs into boards. At home, he then uses a crude planer to thin them out into the basic shape of the ski. By evening he has already bent the two skis into the correct position, with help of his friend and neighbor, Ashatu. The skis then dry and harden in that position to set the shape. Finally, horsehair skins and bindings are put on a few days later.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    A traditional skier blasts through deep powder snow using a long wooden stick as a single pole.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Ashatu carrying a heavy log for firewood, which they use to keep warm in the forest camp. His skis have horse-hides permanently attached to the bottom for traction.

  • Photo: Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

    Tuktun, 77, has spent much of his life making skis and hunting and trapping animals. Today he is retired and going blind but doesn't go far without his favorite pair of skis.

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