The Big Issue : Edition 516
THE BIG ISSUE 15 – 28 JULY 2016 25 HIGH IN THE Altai Mountains, where the borders of Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come to meet, Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen documented an ancient culture: the last of the first skiers. The far northern peaks of the Xinjiang province, China, have long been home to a mix of ethnic Kazakhs, Mongolians and Tuwas, who continue to hand-make wooden skis in the tradition of their ancestors. The skis are hewn from red spruce trees, with horse-hides permanently attached to give traction on the uphill ascents. For thousands of years, these skis have been used for transport while hunting elk, bear and other game. Today, these ancient hunting skills are practised by only a small number of skiers. “In the villages, the traditional skiing and ski-making have all but disappeared,” says Norwegian-born Bendiksen. “It only remains in some very small hamlets... these places are completely off the grid, no roads, no electricity. For me it is interesting to go to such places, as it is a chance to look at ourselves and the rest of the world with slightly different eyes.” Archeological discoveries of rock carvings depicting skiers hunting ibex indicate that the region can compete for the title of the birthplace of skiing. It remains a controversial contest, with Russia and northern European nations also claiming the title. In January 2013, Bendiksen visited the region, joining skier Tursin and his friends on several skiing and hunting trips in harsh conditions where temperature can fall to -40°C. In place of modern ski poles, they plow through the snow with a single wooden stick called a taiyak. The men set out from Akorum village in single file; it’s a multi-day ski hunt and they carry all of their own supplies as they track elk. “They leave their homes with little more than a bit of dry food and some blanket. No tent, no Arctic sleeping bags,” says Bendiksen. “To keep warm, they cut down a few huge trees and burn them at night. Thankfully, I had plenty of down and a good winter sleeping bag. I don’t quite understand how they do it.” The five hunters don’t need guns: they run down elk using only their skis and leather ropes, trapping the animal in deep snow until it becomes paralyzed with exhaustion. While Bendiksen headed out on modern skis, he did try out the traditional gear. “It is extremely challenging even for sophisticated skiers,” he says. “But in the particular terrain they work really superbly – indeed, we had a very hard time keeping up with them even on our modern equipment.” by Amy Hetherington » See more at jonasbendiksen.com. TURSIN AND HIS FRIENDS OUT ON A MULTI-DAY HUNTING TRIP.