History of Skeleton

Skeleton history

A fast-paced winter sport similar to bobsleigh and luge, skeleton involves riding a one-person sled down a long ice track in a prone position, using the body to navigate turns and curves. Part of the family of sledding sports, skeleton shares a history with luge and bobsleigh, originating from the same European countries, and ultimately deriving from methods of transportation through snowy landscapes that have been used for hundreds of years.

Skeleton History

Skeleton has had a complex rise to prominence as a winter sport, with its early forms varying greatly from the Winter Olympic sport we know today. Read on to learn more about the history of skeleton.

Origins of Skeleton

The practice of skeleton sledding began in the late 1800s, at a time when other forms of transportation over snowy, mountainous regions such as skiing were unknown in Central Europe. In 1882, an early form of skeleton was invented by English soldiers stationed in Switzerland. The soldiers created a long toboggan track that stretched the distance between the Swiss towns of Davos and Klosters, using it for transportation and recreation. As the recreational use of the track grew, it was gradually altered from a simple, straight pathway to a curved course with more challenges.

In 1884, a famed skeleton track, the Cresta Run, was created in St. Moritz, Switzerland. This track, a 1,327-yard path from St. Moritz to the town of Celerina, became the site of the Grand National Skeleton Championships, which have been held there since 1885. In 1892, one of the Englishmen, L.P. Child, developed a new metal sled for use on the toboggan track, and it is rumored that the appearance of the sled was likened to a skeleton, thus giving the sport its name. Others, however, claim that the name came from an incorrect Anglicization of the Norwegian word “kjaelke,” the name of the original sleds used to ride down the track. 

Over the following decade, skeleton grew in popularity, with its first official competition outside of Switzerland being held in Austria in 1905. The first Austrian skeleton championships were held the following year, and additional competitions were held in 1908 and 1910. By 1923, the governing body for sledding sports, the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT, later renamed the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, or IBSF), was founded. In 1926, both skeleton and bobsleigh were named Olympic sports and were included in the 1928 St. Moritz Olympic Games

Olympic History of Skeleton

After its first Olympic appearance in 1928, skeleton did not reappear in the games again until 1948, when the fifth Olympic Games were held, again in St. Moritz. After this appearance, skeleton had a long Olympics drought, not reappearing at the Olympics again until 2002. However, many developments were made in the sport in that time, changes that allowed athletes to perform better and achieve greater feats on the ice. In 1969, the first-ever artificially refrigerated ice track for bobsleigh and luge was created in Germany. This development allowed skeleton athletes the opportunity to train in their sport during any season of the year, whereas previously, they had been restricted to practicing in the winter months when there was natural ice. Meanwhile, in 1970, a new form of skeleton sled was created, improving upon the original design. This new design, the “bobsleigh skeleton,” was intended for use on bobsleigh tracks.

Over the course of decades, the IBSF (renamed from the FIBT) consistently updated the rules of skeleton to provide standards for fairness among athletes. In addition, beginning in 1986, many International Skeleton Schools were organized to recruit and train new athletes. The IBSF itself created special training programs to improve the performance of athletes from across the globe.

Modern History of Skeleton

Over the years, skeleton continued to draw in athletes from various nations around the world. By 1992, the Skeleton World Cup featured sledders from 22 countries, with 23 nations performing in the following year. In 1994, the IBSF achieved its target goal of bringing 25 countries into the sport, and in the modern-day, approximately 30 nations participate in skeleton, hailing from six continents.

Olympic Skelton History

In 2002, skeleton returned to the Olympic Games for the first time in 54 years, with men’s and women’s events being held at the Salt Lake City Winter Games. Since then, skeleton has remained a Winter Olympics sport, appearing in 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, and 2022. The return of skeleton to the Olympics provided a boost for the sport and led to the creation of a new professional circuit, the International Cup, in 2007-2008. 

Key Dates And Facts Timeline

  • 1882: Skeleton originates in Switzerland when English soldiers create a toboggan track between Davos and Klosters
  • 1884: The Cresta Run, a famous skeleton track, is created in St. Moritz, Switzerland
  • 1885: The first Grand National Skeleton Championships are held on the Cresta Run
  • 1892: L.P. Child invents a new, metal sled, which becomes the standard skeleton sled
  • 1905: The first skeleton competition outside of Switzerland is held in Austria
  • 1923: The Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing is founded
  • 1926: Skeleton is named an Olympic sport 
  • 1928: Skeleton appears at the St. Moritz Olympic Games
  • 1948: Skeleton appears at the fifth Olympic Games, also in St. Moritz
  • 1969: The first-ever artificially refrigerated bobsleigh track is created, allowing skeleton athletes to practice in the summer months
  • 1970: A new type of skeleton sled, the “bobsleigh skeleton,” is invented
  • 1986: International Skeleton Schools are founded to recruit and train new athletes
  • 1994: The IBSF reaches its goal of bringing 25 countries into skeleton
  • 2002: Skeleton returns to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and remains an Olympic sport to the present day
  • 2007-2008: The first Skeleton International Cup is held


What is the history of skeleton?

Skeleton is a winter sport that originated in Central Europe in the late 1800s when English soldiers in Switzerland began sledding down long ice tracks for transportation and recreation. Over the course of decades, skeleton grew in popularity, but while it was included in the Olympic Games in 1928 and 1948, it did not return there until 2002. Nevertheless, many developments in the sport occurred over the years, and now it is a thriving form of sledding sport, with various championships and World Cup competitions held yearly, in addition to its status as a Winter Olympics sport.

Who invented the sport of skeleton?

The sport of skeleton was first invented by English soldiers stationed in Switzerland during the late 1800s. These soldiers used long ice tracks set up between the Swiss villages of Davos and Klosters for transportation and leisure. In 1892, one of their fellow Englishmen named L.P. Child invented what later became the first metal skeleton sled, the appearance of which is what some say led to the naming of the sport.  

Where did skeleton start?

Skeleton began in the country of Switzerland, a Central European nation that was also the site of the development of many other sledding sports, such as the luge and bobsleigh. Sledding sports were popular in Switzerland due to its snowy, alpine environment. Before their official use as sporting equipment, skeleton sleds were originally modes of transportation through the difficult and icy terrain.