The Long-Lost Ski Goddess

It’s time we get to know the Norse ski goddess who hails from “where the snow never melts.”

words & illustration :: Nikkey Dawn

For as long as most mountain town ski bums can remember, we’ve been told the grand deity of winter, and skiing, is the Norse god Ullr. With gusto and unfiltered belief, we burn old skis, dance around the flames, and shout his praise—anything for a good winter, especially if it involves a good time. While all this worship is light-hearted, and ultimately in pursuit of connection, ski culture’s enchantment with Ullr hints at something deeper.

 

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Searching for the Ski Goddess

If we dig back in time, below the rich, rotting topsoil of the patriarchy and into the rocky depths of the earth, we’ll find the goddesses and gods Christianity tried to bury. Among them is Skaði (often anglicized as Skadi), a Norse ski goddess associated with bowhunting, skiing, winter, and mountains.

While not a household name today, Skaði shows up in nearly all the surviving Norse mythology texts, which means she was a big part of cultural memory. These oral stories were passed down for two centuries before being written down in the late Middle Ages. And in all of them, Skaði is a force to be reckoned with.

 

If we dig back in time, below the rich, rotting topsoil of the patriarchy and into the rocky depths of the earth, we’ll find the goddesses and gods Christianity tried to bury.

 

The Ski Goddess Backstory

Skaði storms Asgard (home of the gods) and demands revenge after her father is killed in a tit-for-tat with Loki the trickster. The gods offer her compensation, the most enticing part being that she can pick a husband from the gods—but, she’s only allowed to choose by the sight of their feet. She picks the best-looking pair, hoping for the handsome Baldr (son of Odin, ruler of the gods), and winds up with Njörd, god of wind and sea. (No ski-boot hammertoes on him, apparently.)

It proves a poor match. Njörd is from the coast, and Skaði the mountains. They attempt to inhabit each other’s domains but Njörd can’t sleep through the howling of the wolves, and the chattering seagulls are enough to make Skaði jump ship on the marriage. She returns home, to Thrymheim “where the snow never melts” to ski and hunt as she pleases. No longer married to a god, she retains the title of ski goddess, and later shows up in texts married to Odin himself.

What’s unique about this story, and all others featuring Skaði, is that she is the only goddess to go around seeking revenge, doing what she wants and being formidable. Were the other goddesses edited to be more acceptable in a sexist, Medieval Christian society when the oral stories became text? Or, is it a clue about Skaði’s origins?

Complex Origins

There’s a theory that she is based on the Sámi (the Indigenous peoples of Scandinavia) who did not have the same gender roles as the Old Norse.

Adding to this, Skaði is also Jǫtunn, a sort of “other than Norse” group many scholars link to the Sámi—an Indigenous people of the European arctic region that archeological data dates back at least 10,000 years. “There’s no question in my mind that Skaði is ‘coded’ as Sámi,” says Merrill Kaplan, an associate professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at Ohio State University. “Skiing was of itself a Sámi-seeming thing in the Middle Ages.”

 

Skaði is the only goddess to go around seeking revenge, doing what she wants and being formidable. Were the other goddesses edited to be more acceptable in a sexist, Medieval Christian society when the oral stories became text?

 

So, with the Old Norse and the Sámi living so close together they would’ve traded, married, and even swapped stories around the fire. With that in mind, there’s another theory that Skaði could have been brought over from Sámi mythology, especially because she shares so many traits with Ullr—why have two of the same? Sadly, we’ll never know for sure—the Sámi experienced a devastating cultural loss during assimilation, and most of their stories have vanished.

Unearthing the Legend

Skaði’s name has started to appear alongside Ullr’s at grassroots ski festivals in the US. There was even a Skadi Vail Women’s Ski Fest from 2016 to 2018. But the event description feels akin to making all women’s ski gear pink; less an actual tribute and more of a half-researched marketing attempt to reach “women who want a break from trying to keep up with the boys.” Morning yoga and guided group runs do not sound characteristic of a goddess who threatened to tie Loki up by his own son’s entrails.

So if we’re going to unearth Skaði’s legend, let’s do it right. Bring on the character-testing missions in the backcountry full of punishing climbs, gnarly descents, and midnight howls with the wolves (all between swigs of ice-cold vodka, her favourite). Because, done right, a pre-season Skaði party sounds a lot more badass than a typical Ullr shindig, and it might even bring us more snow…

From the new Fall/Winter issue of ML Coast Mountains edition, out now.

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