Photo by Christof Sonderegger / Alamy
In 1904, writer Arthur Conan Doyle published a vivid account in Strand Magazine – now best known for publishing his Sherlock Holmes stories - of learning to ski.
In Switzerland, Conan Doyle and his beloved wife, Touie, had checked into a Davos sanatorium for treatment for TB, leaving the hyperactive novelist with time on his hands.
“There is nothing peculiarly malignant in the appearance of a pair of ski,” he wrote. “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 your friends are getting more entertainment than they ever thought you capable of giving.”
After this unpromising start, he turned to the pioneering Branger brothers. They had claimed a notable first when they did the 22-kilometer route from Frauenfeld near Davos to Arosa a year earlier. Now they set off at 4am with Conan Doyle, still a novice but with boundless energy, to walk up the 3,000-meter pass to the point where he could down again.
“We had a pleasure which boots can never give,” he wrote. “For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skiing down into the valley without a motion of our feet. In the great untrodden waste, with snowfields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the track of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in this easy fashion.”
At 11.30am, 90 minutes ahead of schedule, they settled down to “a comfortable luncheon at the Seehof."
Conan Doyle’s verdict? “I am convinced that the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the “ski” season.”
Prophetic words indeed.
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