The Bloke Plateau is located at the very edge of Notranjska between Cerknica Field and the valleys of Lož and Ribnica. Bloke is known as the cradle of old folk skiing. “Bloke skiing” was first described 325 years ago by polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor as a motion on skis in high snow. At the time, the people of Bloke were the only ones in Central Europe using skis to move on snow.
Janez Vajkard Valvasor (1641 – 1693) was a man of many talents – a natural scientist, geographer, historian, ethnographer, a soldier and a publisher. His most important work, “The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola”, published in 1689 in 15 tomes, totalling 3532 pages and including 528 illustrations and 24 appendices, was until the late 19th century the main source for older Slovenian history, making him one of the precursors of modern Slovenian historiography. He gave a fairly accurate description of Bloke skiing in the chapter “Strange walking through the snowy mountain”: “Farmers in some places in Carniola – especially near Turjak and there about – are familiar with a rare invention, which I have not seen in any other country; namely, they slide down high hills on snow in winter with incredible speed into the valley. For this purpose, they use two wooden planks, a quarter of an inch thick, half a foot wide and about five feet long. The planks are bent at the front and curved upwards. A leather strap is attached in the middle of each plank into which the foot is pushed; one such plank is attached to each leg. Furthermore, the farmer also holds a hard stick in the hands. The stick is positioned under the armpit and used for support and steering while leaning the body backwards. They thus slide or, I could also say, ski or fly down the steepest slopes”. According to historical facts, Bloke Plateau in Slovenia is thus considered a cradle of old folk skiing and the Bloke skier a pioneer of a world ski movement.
The people of Bloke made skis from hard woods, preferably from old beech, because of its thick and even annual rings, which make it easy to split and bend. Elsewhere, other varieties of wood were used, such as birch because it is greasy and slippery. Maple, pear, elm, ash and cherry were also highly regarded. They liked to use old, already bent beech wood, because it did not require additional bending
The original and primary function of skis was transportation. They also served as a means of communication between settlements. All – men, women and children – ere using home-made Bloke skis in daily routine: to go hunting, transport water and wood, visit an inn or a shop in nearby village, go to a mass, and also take new-borns to be baptized or even the deceased to the cemetery on special funeral skis. Bloke skiers were masterful at turning corners on steep slopes, so Valvasor’s enthusiasm for their downhill skiing techniques is not surprising.
On the basis of oral tradition and museum specimens, the measurements of skis can be estimated at 1.50 metre in length, about 15 centimetres in width (the older ones were about 19 centimetres wide) and up to 2 centimetres thick. The length of the front curved section was about 20 per cent of the entire length of the ski; the average height of the curve was 10 centimetres. The function of the binding was to fasten the front part of the foot or the tip of a shoe to a ski. Materials and manufacturing techniques for the binding varied – usually leather or horsehair were used. We must not forget the wooden stick, which was a composite part of the equipment of the Bloke skier, particularly in hilly areas. The stick was up to 2 metres long, usually blunt.
In Alpine countries, rich with snow, winter sports, were introduced as a fashion from Scandinavia in the second half of the 19th century. Sledding, skating and skiing were completely new types of activities for townspeople’s to enjoy in their free time. Under the influence of modern, more sophisticated “Norwegian skis”, the form of Bloke skis started to change at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – they became longer and narrower.
Today, nature is still pristine on the Bloke Plateau, it is a land of fresh air and healthy sun. Beautiful landscape offers excellent opportunities for hiking, cycling or horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter. Since 1974 a “Bloke cross-country ski marathon” has been traditionally held in January or February. It is a mass recreational ski running competition in old fashioned equipment that is attended by a large number of runners from all over Slovenia and abroad.
This year “Bloke cross-country ski marathon” will be held on February 8.
Start: at 11.00 a.m.
Length: 20 km, 7 km