An Alpine Pass on Ski

Introduction


Conan Doyle, a writer of unusual literary talent, created Sherlock Holmes, the greatest fictional detective personality of all time.

Doyle was also an avid sportsman. He boxed, swam, played golf, cricket and hockey.

When he moved to Switzerland in 1893, he took up skiing.

It's remarkable that he even tried the sport since skiing in the Alps was very much in its infancy.

In the late Nineteeth Century, the numbers of skiers in the Switzerland could have been counted on one hand.

He had skis shipped to him from Norway and started teaching himself. Eventually, he teamed up with two brothers (the "Brangers brothers" described in his article, below).

The brothers had done a backcountry ski trip over a pass in the Alps, and Conan was hot to have a go at it himself. The following is Doyle's story of the trip.

THERE is nothing peculiarly malignant in the appearance of a pair of "ski." They are two slips of elm - wood, 8ft.

long, 4in. broad, with a square heel, turned-up toes, and straps in the centre to secure your feet. No one to look at them would guess at the possibilities which lurk in them.

But you put them on, and you turn with a smile to see whether your friends are looking at you, and then the next moment you are boring your head madly into a snow-bank, and kicking frantically with both feet, and half rising only to butt viciously into that snow-bank again, and your friends are getting more entertainment than they had ever thought you capable of giving.

An Alpine Pass on Ski, Doyle turningThis is when you are beginning. You naturally expect trouble then, and you are not likely to be disappointed. But as you get on a little the thing becomes more irritating.


The " ski" are the most capricious things upon earth. One day you cannot go wrong with them. On another, with the same weather and the same snow, you cannot go right.

And it is when you least expect it that things begin to happen. You stand on the crown of a slope and you adjust your body for a rapid slide, but your " ski" stick motionless, and over you go upon your face.

Or you stand upon a plateau which seems to you to be as level as a billiard table, and in an instant, without cause or warning, away they shoot, and you are left behind staring at the sky.

For a man who suffers from too much dignity, a course of Norwegian snow-shoes would have a fine moral effect.

Whenever you brace yourself for a fall it never comes off. Whenever you think yourself absolutely secure it is all over with you.

You come to a hard ice slope at an angle of 7S degrees and you zig-zag up it, digging the side of your "ski" into it, and feeling that if a mosquito settles upon you you are gone. But nothing ever happens, and you reach the top in safety.

Then you stop upon the level to congratulate your companion, and you have just time to say, "What a lovely view is this!" when you find yourself standing on your two shoulder-blades, with your "ski" tied tightly round your neck.

Or, again, you may have had a long outing without any misfortune at all, and as you shuffle back along the road, you stop for an instant to tell a group in the hotel veranda how well you are getting on.

Something happens—and they suddenly find that their congratulations are addressed to the soles of your "ski."

Then, if your mouth is not full of snow, you find yourself muttering the names of a few Swiss villages to relieve your feelings.

"Ragatz!" is a very handy word, and may save a scandal.

An Alpine Pass on Ski, Doyle and friends restingBut all this is in the early stage of "ski"-ing.

You have to shuffle along the level, to zig-zag or move crab fashion up the hills, to slide down without losing your balance, and, above all, to turn with facility.

The first time you try to turn, your friends
think it is part of your fun. The great "ski" flapping in the air has the queerest appearance, like an exaggerated nigger dance.

But this sudden whish round is really the most necessary of accomplishments, for only so can one turn upon the mountain side without slipping down.

It must be done without ever presenting one's heels to the slope, and this is the only way.

But granted that a man has perseverance, and a month to spare in which to conquer all these early difficulties, he will then find that "ski"-ing opens up a field of sport for him which is, I think, unique.

This is not appreciated yet, but I am convinced that the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the "ski"-ing season, in March and April.

I believe that I may claim to be the first save only two Switzers to do any mountain work (though on a modest enough scale) on snow-shoes, but I am certain that I will not by many a thousand be the last.

The fact is that it is easier to climb an ordinary peak or to make a journey over the higher passes in winter than in summer, if the weather is only set fair.

In summer you have to climb down as well as climb up, and the one is as tiring as the other.

In winter your trouble is halved, as most of your descent is a mere slide.

If the snow is tolerably firm, it is much easier also to zig-zag up it on "ski " than to clamber over boulders under a hot summer sun.

The temperature, too, is more favourable for exertion in winter, for nothing could be more delightful than the crisp, pure air on the mountains, though glasses are, of course, necessary to protect the eyes from the snow glare.

An Alpine Pass on Ski, Doyle downhillOur project was to make our way from Davos to Arosa over the Furka Pass, which is over 9,000 ft. high.

The distance is not more than from twelve to fourteen miles as the crow flies, but it has only once been done in winter.

Last year the two brothers Branger made their way across on "ski."

They were my companions on the present expedition, and more trustworthy ones no novice could hope to have with him.

They are both men of considerable endurance, and even a long spell of my German did not appear to exhaust them.

We were up before four in the morning, and had started at half-past for the village of Frauenkirch, where we were to commence our ascent.

A great pale moon was shining in a violet sky, with such stars as can only be seen in the tropics or the higher Alps.

At a quarter-past five we turned from the road and began to plod up the hill-sides over alternate banks of last year's grass and slopes of snow.

We carried our "ski" over our shoulders and our "ski" boots slung round our necks, for it was good walking where the snow was hard, and it was sure to be hard wherever the sun had struck it during the day.

Here and there in a hollow we floundered into and out of a soft drift up to our waists, but on the whole it was easy going, and as much of our way lay through fir woods, it would have been difficult to "ski.

" About half-past six, after a long, steady grind, we emerged from the woods, and shortly afterwards passed a wooden cow-house, which was the last sign of man which we were to see until we reached Arosa.

An Alpine Pass on Ski
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


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