[Transcriber's note: The spelling and punctuation inconsistencies of the original have been retained in this etext.]
WITH MAP AND FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS FROM PHOTOGRAPHS
So many excellent books have been written about Ski-ing that it is, perhaps, presumptuous on my part to think that there is room for another.
Mr. Vivien Caulfeild in his "How to Ski" and "Ski-ing Turns," as well as Mr. Arnold Lunn in his "Ski-ing for Beginners," "Cross Country Ski-ing" and "Alpine Ski-ing," have covered all the ground of the technique discovered up to date. What future discoveries and inventions may be made, requiring new books, no one knows as yet.
Had it not been for the help and coaching these two exponents of Ski-ing have given to me personally, I should never have been able to enjoy the sport to the extent I do now, because I should probably have been content to continue running across country, falling whenever I wanted to stop, and using a kick turn at the end of my traverses. Their enthusiasm and example gave me new ideas of the standard I wanted to attain, and their unfailing kindness and advice helped me to get nearer to it than I could otherwise have done.
The standard still lies away up out of reach, as age undoubtedly tells against the Ski-runner, and the perfect Christiania in deep, soft snow round trees growing close together on a steep slope must be done in heaven rather than on earth by people who are nearer fifty than forty.
Much experience of coaching beginners convinces me that there is still room for a book such as I hope to make this—a book containing only the simple answers to questions put to me during the last three years, when I have been responsible for running the Ski-ing in various centres. The object of such coaching is to raise the standard of British Ski-ing, and it is satisfactory to realize that other nations, including the Swiss, already marvel at the fair average of our runners. This is specially remarkable when it is remembered that most British runners can only afford a bare fortnight or three weeks' winter holiday in the Alps, and that they are not always in training when they arrive. Ski-ing is a sport which exercises every nerve and muscle as well as lungs, as is soon discovered during the first 100 feet climb or the first fall in deep snow on the Nursery slopes.
In addition to my conviction that there is room for another book for beginners, my love of the Alps, which have been my home for the greater part of my life, also induces me to try to show something of the real objects of Ski-ing; namely getting to the silent places which can only be reached on skis, realizing something of the strength and immensity of Nature at her grimmest, profiting by the wonderful atmosphere of the mountains, to say nothing of the beauty of an Alpine view on a fine day.
The greatest pity is that most British winter holiday-makers can only go out for Christmas. This is admittedly the worst time from the point of view of weather. At low altitudes rain often falls early in January, turning the snow into slush and reducing the Ski-er to despair. After the 15th January, the weather is usually better, and in February the days are longer and finer. The best time of all for an Alpine holiday is usually February and early March. My advice to novices, who are not tied by Christmas holidays, is to come out about the 20th January, when the hotels are less crowded, the days longer, the snow more certain and all the conditions more favourable. Some of my own best Ski-ing days have been late in March when the crocuses and gentians were already opening to the sun on the Southern slopes, and a soldanella might be found along some tiny stream. Few experiences can equal a Spring day among the Alps when the wealth of flowers begins to show in the valleys, while masses of good snow still lie on the Northern slopes or on the ridges above 6,000 feet.
Early starts are necessary these days as the sun blazes after 11 a.m., but nothing can equal the bodily comfort and well-being enjoyed at midday, lunching at the top of some peak or pass, basking in the blaze and imagining the run down cool slopes. No Ski-runner, who has not been out in late February or March, realizes the joy and comfort of late Ski-ing. The hotels will remain open as long as clients stay to make it worth while, and all the mid-winter amenities will be kept up if they are wanted.
In recommending places and equipment, I intend boldly to confine myself to the places I have been to and to the equipment I have used, or of which I have had reports from people I trust. This is a somewhat risky determination as there is great competition among the various centres and business firms which cater for Ski-runners. My reason is that the endless advertisements must be extremely confusing to the novice, who does not know what to believe, and who may sometimes be let down by a glowing description of some place or gear, which proves to be quite unsuitable.
The old hands will find nothing new in this book. Not even controversy about the nomenclature of turns or as to which foot should carry the weight in a Christiania. My own view of Ski-ing turns is that they are a means to an end, and not an end in themselves, and that the Ski-runner, who is content to spend weeks on the Nursery slopes, perfecting one turn, has wasted almost weeks, when he might be enjoying what Skis enable one to reach among the mountains above. At the same time every beginner should be content to devote two or three of his first days to the Nursery slopes, learning the elements of good Ski-ing before dashing off on an excursion. As I know from painful experience, there is much to unlearn in what one has picked up by the light of Nature. Scrambling down a run, crashing and sitting on one's Skis, may be great fun the first day, but is tiring and humiliating as time goes on. It is infinitely preferable to learn the knack of Ski-ing tidily, and thereby keeping dry and, in a few days, running well enough thoroughly to enjoy a day out with its slow climb to the top of some peak or pass, and then the slide down under control.
This is where tests are so valuable. Most people undoubtedly enjoy competition and, if the passing of the turns is made a necessary qualification for the timed run of the 3rd class test, most beginners will determine to learn them and then to try the Run and, having successfully passed that, wear a Badge. Badge-hunting, like pot-hunting, may not be a very worthy object in itself, but if it encourages people to become proficient in a beautiful sport, let us give our weakness of character free play and achieve the results it leads to. The tests of the Federated Ski Clubs of Great Britain have done more to raise the standard of our running than anything else imaginable.
The beginner is wise, who chooses a centre where the Ski-ing is well organized, and where he can be certain of getting coaching as well as excursions suited to his standard, as nothing is lonelier than going to a place where he is dependent on his own initiative; neither is anything more irksome to the good runner than to be asked to admit a stranger to his party, who may keep him back and spoil his run. This will be further alluded to in the Chapter on Etiquette, and if a beginner wishes to be popular, I advise him strongly to adhere to the "Law." A strict code has been adopted, mainly as a result of the suffering from pertinacious runners, who put their standard higher than is admitted by others.
Where the Ski-ing is organized, tests sort different individuals into their different standards and Runs are planned accordingly, so that the novice is not over-strained and the experienced runner is not hindered by too big a party.
The beginner should also choose a centre where there is a railway to help him. A great deal of precious time and energy may be wasted in a short holiday when all climbing has to be done on skis. The first runs are tiring enough without the additional fatigue of climbing, and going up in a funicular or railway opens up numbers of runs which would be far too energetic for most people who are not in training.
HISTORY OF SKI-ING
COST OF A SKI-ING HOLIDAY IN WINTER
CARE OF EQUIPMENT
THE ELEMENTS OF SKI-ING
SNOW AND LIGHT
GUIDES AND SKI INSTRUCTORS
MAPS AND FINDING THE WAY
THE ATTRACTIONS OF SKI-ING
APPENDIX: REGULATIONS OF THE BRITISH SKI TESTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
From photographs by E. Gyger, Adelboden, Switzerland
MAP OF SWITZERLAND
THE UPHILL TRACK
HISTORY OF SKI-ING
Very little is known of the early history of Ski-ing. Doctor Henry Hoek in his book "Der Schi" gives a very interesting chapter tracing the use of Skis back to the earliest records. He thinks that Skis were used by Central Asian races thousands of years B.C. and long before they were used in Europe. According to his book the word "Schi" is derived from the Gothic "Skaidan," the German "Scheiden," Latin "Scindere," and so on. All these words mean split or divide, and might be used to describe the split wood of which Skis are made or their action in dividing or separating the snow through which they pass.
Doctor Hoek further says that early records show how Ski-ing was a sport practised by knights, and he quotes Rognwald of Orkney (1159 A.D.) who states that he could run on Skis.
The Swedish Bishop Magnus writes in 1533 of the way in which the Norwegians used Skis for traversing country when hunting.
During the Swedish and Norwegian war in 1808 the Norwegian Army included 2,000 Ski runners, but the use of Skis does not seem to have come into warfare again until the Great War of 1914-1918, when the Swiss, Austrians and Italians all used them on the Alpine frontiers.
The modern and fully recorded use of Skis began about 1843 when the sport became really popular in Norway and a Ski race was run at Tromso. In 1861 a Ski Club was founded, and in 1863 an exhibition was held there.
The Swedes also took up Ski-ing as a sport at about this time but Skis do not seem to have penetrated into Central Europe until after 1870 when a French doctor tried them at Chamounix in 1871.
The first introduction of Skis into Switzerland, which I have been able to trace, was by the monks of St. Bernard, who obtained some pairs from Norway in 1883, thinking that they might be useful in their work of mercy, rescuing pedestrians who were in difficulties on the Pass. About 1887 Colonel Napier came to Davos bringing with him a Norwegian man-servant and a pair of Skis. Mythical tales were told of the way this man slid down the slopes from chalet to hotel, carrying a tea tray on his shoulder. I have only a vague recollection of seeing him perform, but when Colonel Napier left Davos the same year, he gave the Skis to me to play with. They were very similar to modern Skis but had a rigid binding made of sealskin with no means of tightening or loosening it. Not knowing better, I used to try to run in gouties or rubber snow-boots which slipped about inside the binding so that I had absolutely no control. This did not make much difference, as I knew nothing of the art and only used the Skis as a freak on days off from tobogganing. I knew nothing of wax, and when the Skis stuck, they stuck, and I thought it a poor game. When they slid I sat down and I thought it a poorer game. It never entered my head that I could traverse across any slope and so I always went straight down and only by a fluke did I ever stand. Then Tobias Branger, who was a great sportsman and kept a sports shop at Davos, imported several pairs of Skis and practised the art himself.
About this time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Dobson took up the game and we spent many hours practising on the slopes behind Davos Dorf.
The Richardson brothers, who had been to Norway, came to Davos about 1893 bringing with them knowledge of the sport and soon gathered round them a keen lot of disciples. The Davos English Ski Club was formed and from now on Ski-ing spread rapidly throughout Switzerland.
In the meantime, Ski Clubs were also being formed in the Black Forest and other parts of Germany, as well as in Austria.
Doctor Nansen, in his book about Greenland, described the use of Skis for Arctic exploration and his accounts fired a great many more people to try the game.
I advise anyone who wishes to know more of the development of Ski running to read Doctor Hoek's book "Der Schi," published in 1922, as he gives a long account of the first forming of Clubs as well as the gradual adoption of Skis as a means to winter climbing, and, further, a useful list of the literature on the subject.
After the first beginnings in 1899, the Swiss became energetic and enthusiastic runners. The children could be seen on barrel staves with a pair of old boots nailed to the centre into which they slipped their feet with their own boots on. It was not a particularly graceful game in those days. Runners armed themselves with poles some 8 feet long on which they leant heavily when running downhill. This school soon gave way to the more modern school, which proved that the carrying of two sticks was better than one only. A great many books on the technique of Ski-ing followed each other fast and furiously—Zdarsky and Lilienfeld, Caulfeild and Lunn, Roget Hoeg and others all contributing to the controversy on technique.
Now there are innumerable Ski Clubs with their own year-books, and the sport is so well launched, not only in Europe, but also in Australia, New Zealand, East Africa and America and elsewhere, throughout the world, that there is but little chance of its ever again dying out.
The British Ski Clubs include the Ski Club of Great Britain, the British Ski Association, the Alpine Ski Club and the Ladies' Ski Club. These are federated in one Council and work harmoniously together for the furtherance of British Ski-ing.
This is a very incomplete history, but I feel that it is better to limit it to a few dates and to await the publishing of a more extensive history of Ski-ing in English than now exists.
COST OF A SKI-ING HOLIDAY IN WINTER
The expenses of a winter holiday differ according to the place chosen, the hotel and the organization to whose care you commit yourself, if any. Any figures I quote are approximate and are subject to change owing to fluctuations in exchanges, etc.
If you go to a large hotel, with all its luxuries, you will pay anything from L1 a day upwards, and this may not include sports tax, etc. The smaller hotels will probably make arrangements for pension at about 16 francs, or even 14 francs, or less, per day, but may not be very comfortable, and comfort is important in winter. It is particularly necessary that the hotel should be well heated, as the drying of Ski-ing clothes is a very important point.
As I said in my Preface, the beginner will be wise who chooses a centre where the sports are highly organized, and where he will be certain to find coaching and arrangements made for tests and runs, as well as a railway or funicular to help with uphill work. Only in such a place can he learn enough Ski-ing in a short time to enable him to begin to enjoy touring before he returns home, panting to come out again and continue the experience. One joy of Ski-ing is that you usually begin again where you left off, and have not to relearn what you learnt the winter before.
Having lived in the Alps off and on for forty-six years, and having seen all sorts of different ways of running things, I realized at Muerren, where I first learnt to ski properly four years ago, how much the beginner profits by going to such a centre. Otherwise he may waste infinite time in Ski-ing without skill and with only half the enjoyment. It is not only at Muerren that the coaching is given, though Mr. Arnold Lunn's system of helping everyone originated there. Pontresina provides it also, and Klosters and other places as well, but it seems to me that Muerren is the mother of up-to-date British Ski-ing.
The cost of a fortnight at a good hotel comes to about L15, including sports tax, afternoon tea and heating. The journey about L7 return 2nd-class or L9 1st-class, in addition. This can be reduced by travelling 3rd class in England and Switzerland, where at any rate it is quite possible to travel 3rd class on any mountain railway.
In addition to the expense of Pension at an hotel and of the journey, at least L5 will probably be required for local railway fares, subscription to entertainment fund, baths, gratuities, hire of Skis, lessons, guides, etc. L30 ought to cover a fortnight, and L35 three weeks, and a good deal less can be reckoned if a smaller hotel be chosen.
Most of the Sports Hotels will now quote an inclusive price per day, to which at least 10 per cent. should be added to the estimate for gratuities to servants. This is the recognized scale at which gratuities are given by most people, though they might often amount to more when any special service has been rendered.
Local railway fares on mountain railways are high, because of the great expense of keeping them open, but most of these railways offer special sports tickets, either for a definite period as a season ticket, or for a certain number of journeys. For instance, on the Muottas Muraigl Funicular Railway above Pontresina 24 tickets single journey can be obtained for the sum of Frs. 50, while the ordinary single fare is Frs. 4.75, or more than twice the reduced fare.
The cost of equipment must be added to the estimate, but this need not be very great as Ski-ing boots and gloves are the only items which cannot usually be used at home by men—trousers or breeches being an additional cost for women.
People sometimes complain that a Swiss winter holiday is very costly, but I believe it can compare favourably with a golfing holiday at home. Ski-ing is the cheapest possible sport, if runners are content to foot it uphill instead of using railways or sledges. During the months of February and March, special low terms can probably be obtained in the hotels, as they are anxious to prolong their season, and will do anything they can afford to induce British sportsmen to come out then. February and the first half of March are the best time from every point of view, so that no one who can take his holiday then, and who does not want all the gaiety of the social side, will regret going during these months. In old days before the war this was fully appreciated and the season used to last three months, instead of a short six weeks as it does now.
In this chapter I propose only to describe such of the larger Swiss places as I know personally, or by reputation. There are a great many smaller places where equally good, or even better, Ski-ing may be found, but, as my book is meant mainly for beginners, it seems preferable to adhere to the advice given in the preface, and for me to mention only such centres as provide comfort in the hotels and good coaching and organization of tours, as well as facilities for playing other games. Most people when they go to the Alps for their first winter visit wish to try all the different sports in order to see which they like best, and there seems to me to be no question but that the all-round sportsman gets the most out of his holiday.
There may be days when Ski-ing is not possible or when a few hours on the rink or toboggan run offer a relief to a stale Ski runner. It is usually only the really keen enthusiast of some years' standing who can spend the whole day waxing or oiling his Skis, or poring over a map planning future runs.
When choosing a place the first objective is a good supply of snow. This does not seem to depend entirely on height, though there is more likelihood of finding it above 4,000 feet than below that height. Above 5,000 feet there is less chance of thaw and rain—the bugbears of all Winter sportsmen, who can only go out for the Christmas holidays.
I have known a Winter when snow has lain in one district at 5,000 feet and not at 6,000 feet in another, but this was exceptional. The higher you go, the more hope you have of snow as a rule and also of frost, which is so necessary to keep the snow in good condition.
The centres I recommend are mainly arranged in groups geographically, taking the Canton of Graubunden, or the Grisons first, because it is the country I love best, having spent most of my early life there. The heights are taken from Murray's Handbook.
KLOSTERS, 3,970 feet above the sea. This seems to me to be one of the very best Winter Sports centres. It is a small village with two large and a few small hotels. It usually has good snow and is protected from wind. There is plenty of sun, but North slopes provide good runs near the village as well as on the Parsenn.
The Rhaetische Railway helps runners to get the maximum of downhill running for the minimum of climb, especially opening up the whole Parsenn district to those who want a long day's tour with only some 1-1/2 hours' climb.
The Nursery slopes are good, and there is plenty of open ground near the hotels for practice. The Ski-ing is well organized by the local club, and there are 1st-class Ski Instructors, as well as Certificated Guides.
The rinks are well kept and the Klosters run of old renown is maintained in good condition for tobogganing or bobbing.
There is quite a good Ski map to be obtained locally, but the Ordnance Map should be used as well.
Skis can be hired locally.
DAVOS, 5,015 feet above the sea, was one of the first places at which Winter sports began, and it still offers almost everything desired by the Ski runner. The fact that Davos is much visited by invalids deters a great many people from going there, for fear of infection. As a matter of fact they are probably a good deal safer there than in some other places where there may be a few invalids, but where the same precautions regarding disinfection may not be taken.
Two or three hotels are kept open for sports people only, and at these the life is just the same as in all the other well-known centres.
Davos is within very easy reach by the Rhaetische Railway of all the Parsenn runs. The side valleys, Fluela, Dischma and Sertig, all offer innumerable good runs to the energetic runner who does not object to climbing, and there are endless Nursery slopes. It is one of the few places whence tours can still be planned over almost unlimited snow-fields when a track is a rare sight except on the few ordinary short runs or on the Parsenn.
The local club organizes the Ski-ing, and good Ski Instructors and Guides are available.
The rinks are excellent and the Schatzalp and Klosters runs are maintained for bobbing and tobogganing.
There is a good Ski map showing all the runs round Davos, but the Ordnance Map should be used as well.
Skis can be hired locally.
AROSA, 5,643 feet above the sea, is said to be excellent for Ski-ing, but I do not know it well. There is no railway to help runners much. Invalids go there as well as to Davos, but the same precautions are taken as at Davos.
There are rinks and a very good run for bobbing and tobogganing.
LENZERHEIDE, about 4,500 feet above the sea, has a fine reputation for easy Ski-ing. There is no railway to help it and all uphill work has to be done on Skis. I have never been there in Winter-time, but know that a great many runners speak well of Lenzerheide. The Ski-ing is organized, and good Instructors and Guides are available.
There is probably a good rink, but of this I have no personal knowledge.
In the Engadine valley, which is also part of Graubunden, the following centres can be recommended.
PONTRESINA, 5,916 feet above the sea. The Nursery slopes are very extensive and offer short runs to the beginner. The Muottas Muraigl funicular conveys runners up some 2,000 feet, when after an easy climb of one hour a really good run may be obtained back to Pontresina.
The Rhaetische and Bernina Railways open up a large number of good runs in the Engadine valley and also up the Bernina and Morteratsch districts.
Open wood-running as well as glacier-running under safe conditions can be enjoyed near home, and Pontresina is undoubtedly one of the best places for people who want to perfect their cross-country running under different conditions.
There are no short afternoon runs ending in the village, but the railways enable people to enjoy all the tours of the Upper Engadine.
The longer tours, such as those over the Kesch Glacier to Berguen or Davos, are unequalled so far as I know.
Having spent two Winters at Pontresina, I can recommend it from intimate knowledge, but only for the real beginner or for the expert who wants amusing running. It is not the place for Ski-ers who only want a short run between lunch and tea.
First-class Guides and good Instructors are available. The Ski-ing is organized and plenty of coaching is given to members of the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club.
Excellent rinks and short bobbing and tobogganing runs are maintained.
A useful guide describing all the runs in the Upper Engadine can be obtained locally.
Skis can be hired locally.
ST. MORITZ, 6,037 feet above the sea. CELERINA, 5,750 " " " " SAMADEN, 5,669 " " " " are all served by the Rhaetische and Bernina Railway, and have the same Ski-ing facilities as Pontresina.
Their rinks and toboggan runs are well maintained, those at St. Moritz being, of course, among the best in Switzerland.
Good Guides and Ski Instructors are available, but, so far as I know, Ski-ing is not in any way organized for beginners in these places.
Skis can be hired locally.
ZUOZ, 5,617 feet above the sea, is also a good Ski-ing centre further down the Inn Valley. There are only two or three hotels, and the village is quite unspoilt. It provides the most wonderful open South slopes for Ski-ing and North slopes are also within reach across the valley.
Zuoz lies almost at the foot of the climb for the Kesch runs and also taps the country further down the Inn valley behind Schuls.
So far as I know the Ski-ing is not organized in any way, but Guides are available.
There are rinks, but, Zuoz being still one of the old-fashioned places, life would be quiet there.
CAMPFER, about 5,850 feet above the sea, and
SILS-MARIA and SILVAPLANA, about 5,950 feet above the sea, lie further up the Inn valley beyond St. Moritz. No railway exists to help Ski runners, and the slopes are somewhat steep and apt to be precipitous except in the Fex Thal, south of Sils-Maria, which has lovely snow-fields.
Campfer and Silvaplana tap the country lying behind the Julier Pass, but, as no railway helps here, the tours entail a lot of climbing and a drive on the way home.
MALOJA, 5,935 feet above the sea, lies at the upper end of the Inn valley.
Never having been there in Winter, I cannot describe it during that season.
It is a beautiful place in Summer, and may open up a good deal of country which is not much tracked, as there is no village and only one large and two small hotels.
The post road runs zigzagging down into Italy and is said to provide a very fine bob or toboggan run. A Rink is kept open. Now that Maloja is being opened as a Winter centre, every amenity for a Winter holiday will probably be offered.
The Bernese Oberland is also one of the best Ski-ing districts in Switzerland.
Mr. A. Lunn has produced a very helpful guide to all the Ski-ing tours and also, with the help of Herr Gurtner, a first-class Ski-ing map, using the Ordnance Map as its basis, so that only one map need be carried.
MUeRREN, 5,368 feet above the sea, seems to me to be one of the very best centres for beginners as they receive so much help, and there are numbers of short runs aided by the Allmendhubel funicular which runs up some 700 feet above the village. From the top of this several short runs end in the village or on the Berner Oberland Railway, which brings the tired novice home without much effort.
The Berner Oberland and the Wengern Alp Railways also enable people to get the best of the Scheidegg runs down to Wengen or Grindelwald.
The Ski-ing is very highly organized at Muerren and beginners receive a great deal of help and encouragement.
There are Guides and Instructors.
The Rinks and bob run are admittedly among the best in Switzerland.
Skis can be hired locally.
WENGEN, 4,187 feet above the sea, is a lovely place, with the most beautiful view of the Jungfrau. It faces south, but provides two or three nice home runs, which remain in good condition except for the tracks of innumerable runners.
The Wengern Alp Railway is usually open to the Scheidegg, though after a very heavy snow-fall it may take a few days to clear. This enables people to enjoy all the runs down to Grindelwald, returning to Wengen by train.
The Ski-ing is organized and there are good Guides and Instructors. Rinks and a most amusing toboggan run provide for off-days.
Skis can be hired locally.
GRINDELWALD, 3,468 feet above the sea, is too well-known as a Summer resort to need much description here.
Its main fault in Winter is that the sun disappears behind a mountain for about an hour and a half in the middle of the day. This ensures perfect ice on the rinks and does not much affect the Ski runner, who can climb beyond the shadow for lunch. I cannot resist mentioning my good friend Frau Wolther's tea-shop as one of the great attractions at Grindelwald, drawing many a Ski runner over the Scheidegg from Muerren and Wengen! Frau Wolther's unfailing welcome and hospitality are a great joy at the end of a hot, wet run, and the fact that a change of clothes can be sent round by train to her care is a great comfort to those coming from afar.
There are plenty of short Ski runs above Grindelwald, and the Scheidegg railway is kept open as far as Alpiglen to help with the climb on a long day's tour.
There are good Guides to be had, some of whom are probably Ski Instructors.
The Rinks are first-class and both bob and toboggan runs are kept up.
Skis can be hired locally.
LAUTERBRUNNEN, about 3,000 feet above the sea. People who know Switzerland well may wonder why I include Lauterbrunnen in my list, but I have often wondered equally why no one makes it a centre for Ski-ing. Though the sun may not shine there for long hours, the fact that it lies at the junction of the Berner Oberland Railway, the Muerren Funicular and the Wengern Alp Railway seems to me to make it a very possible Ski-ing centre.
There are good hotels, and the Herr Gurtners, whose home Lauterbrunnen is, may be depended upon as two of the best Ski runners in Switzerland and two of the most active pushers of Ski-ing, to do their utmost to help any British runners who decide to try Lauterbrunnen.
All the Muerren, Wengen and Grindelwald runs are within easy reach of Lauterbrunnen, and if the railways will sell special tickets, the cost of the journeys should not be prohibitive.
To my mind, the fact that one could stop at Lauterbrunnen after a day over the Scheidegg would be a great comfort, as the last journey up to Muerren or Wengen is apt to be tiresome after a long run, if often repeated.
In any case it seems to me that runners might do worse than write to Herr Gurtner at Lauterbrunnen and ask for particulars, at any rate for the Christmas holidays, when most of the popular villages are very full and the hotel rates are high.
Good Guides are available at Lauterbrunnen.
KANDERSTEG, 3,835 feet above the sea. I have never been there except in Summer when I know it well.
One great attraction about Kandersteg is that it can be reached by a through train from Calais or Boulogne.
From the Ski-ing point of view, I think Kandersteg might be disappointing to the runner who hopes for short runs. There are excellent Nursery slopes, and the Loetschberg Railway probably opens up quite a lot of country.
Guides are obtainable.
Rinks and toboggan runs are maintained.
ADELBODEN, 4,450 feet above the sea, is said to be an excellent Ski-ing centre, but I do not know it personally, having only just been up there in Summer time.
There is no railway to help, so that all climbing has to be done on Skis. It is within reach of very good tours throughout the lower Bernese mountains.
The British Championship was held there in 1923, which shows that the Ski-ing is organized, and good Guides are, no doubt, obtainable.
Adelboden, being a well-known Winter Sports Centre, the rink and toboggan runs are probably excellent, but, never having seen them, I cannot vouch for them.
Skis can be hired locally.
SAANENMOSER, 4,209 feet above the sea, lies at the top of the low pass between the Simmen Valley above Zweizimme and the Sarine Valley running down to Gstaad and Chateau d'Oex.
There is only the one Sports Hotel and no village. It is a most charming place within reach of Ski-ing in all directions among the lower Bernese mountains.
The Montreux Oberland Railway running down both sides of the Pass helps a little by carrying Ski runners home after some long excursions, but all uphill work has to be done on Skis. The slopes are gradual and the Saanenmoser runs are perfect for people who have learnt the elements of Ski-ing in some active place, and who then want to gain confidence by free running over easy country.
The Ski-ing was not organized when I was at Saanenmoser in 1921, and neither Guides nor Ski Instructors were obtainable. There was only a tiny rink and no toboggan or bob runs.
Skis can be hired at Gstaad.
GSTAAD, about 3,800 feet above the sea, lies below Saanenmoser, and is a large village with numbers of hotels. The Ski-ing is very much the same as at Saanenmoser and the Railway serves the same purpose, only helping runners a little.
I have never stayed at Gstaad, but have heard it well spoken of as a Winter Sports centre offering all the usual attractions.
Skis can be hired locally, I believe, and Guides are obtainable.
* * * * *
The Rhone Valley offers a few centres which I do not know in Winter. Among those I have heard most about, the following are outstanding.
VILLARS, 4,000 feet above the sea, is reached by a railway from Bex. It lies on slopes facing South, and I gather that the Ski-ing there is somewhat limited.
The rinks are said to be good and the usual Winter attractions are offered.
MONTANA, 5,000 feet above the sea, is reached by a funicular railway from Sierre. Like Villars it also lies on slopes, facing almost south, but there seems to be good Ski-ing among the mountains behind.
MORGINS. In addition to the above, I would mention Morgins, which I do not know personally, but of which I have heard a good deal. Morgins is 4,406 feet above the sea, and is particularly well-known for its rinks, which seem to be first-class. The Ski-ing is said to be good but not extensive. There is no railway.
DIABLERETS, 3,849 feet above the sea, in a valley going from Aigle among the mountains to the East, might be a good centre for Ski-ing, but I only know it in Summer. So far as I have heard it offers the usual attractions in Winter, but there is no railway to help much.
In other districts of Switzerland the following places should be mentioned, although I have never been to them in Winter time.
ENGELBERG, 3,343 feet above the sea, in the Stans valley near Luzern, is often well spoken of as a Winter centre, though it is liable to thaw and shortage of snow. From what I know of it in Summer time I should think that most of the surrounding slopes are too steep and precipitous to allow of much free running, but the Titlis group probably provides some open country and there is a short funicular above the village.
There are excellent hotels, and all the usual attractions are offered.
ANDERMATT, 4,738 feet above the sea, lies in the Gothard Valley above the Tunnel, and is easily reached in Winter by express trains stopping at Goeschinen, whence a short mountain railway runs up to Andermatt.
I have only been there in Summer, and from what I saw should imagine that Andermatt was subject to a great deal of wind. The slopes all look somewhat steep and are bare of forest, so that they might be somewhat dangerous on account of avalanches.
There is no railway to help Ski runners, but Andermatt might offer quite a lot of good runs to experienced people.
I know nothing of the other attractions for the all-round Winter sportsman, but have little doubt that Andermatt, which is a go-ahead place, does all it can to satisfy them.
There are, of course, innumerable other places which may be good Ski-ing centres, not only in Switzerland, but also in Germany, Austria, and the Italian Tyrol.
The Jura mountains and places, such as Splugen and Schuls in Graubunden, might open up new districts. There is much new country to explore, and I have only picked out for notice the few places to which I have been myself, or of which I have heard from people I trust.
My description may not always be appreciated by people who have special affection for any one centre, but I have only tried to put forward my own impressions for the guidance of any beginner who may feel in a quandary as to what place to choose.
So much depends on weather conditions: if there is plenty of snow and if the sun shines, almost every place is delightful. If, on the other hand, a thaw settles in or fog descends on the mountains, or a blizzard blows the snow about, or, worst of all, if rain falls, reducing the snow to slush, nobody will be satisfied anywhere. Luckily for Ski runners, even a few inches of wet snow will provide practice, so that they suffer less than other Winter sportsmen when the weather is unfavourable.
One thing can invariably be depended upon in Switzerland, namely a warm welcome from the hotels, and every endeavour made to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of their clients.
No country in the world lays itself out more for the satisfaction of its visitors, and no holiday can beat a Winter holiday among the Alps when the conditions are favourable and the sportsmen determined to enjoy themselves.
[Footnote 1: There is apt to be a certain amount of wind in the whole Engadine but its height counterbalances this by usually ensuring that there is not a thaw, even at Christmas time.]
Clothing should be light, smooth, warm, loose and, when buttoned up, it should leave no gaps. It is better to wear several thin, warm garments than one thick one, for the simple reason that going uphill one wants to peel to the minimum; sitting on top of a mountain or ridge in a wind, one wants to pile on everything one possesses, and going downhill one wants a medium amount, all of which will button up so that the snow cannot penetrate inside. Ordinary country clothes will usually suffice for the first season, especially if they are of smooth material which will shake off the snow.
Men usually wear smooth wool or cotton gaberdene coats, and trousers, and a peaked "Guide's" cap. Their trousers either tuck inside the uppers of their boots and should be sufficiently long to do so without pulling out in a strained turn or fall, or they may be buttoned round outside the boots or folded and tied on with Norwegian puttees or swanks. Breeches and stockings may be worn, but long puttees should be avoided as they constrict the muscles and stop the circulation, thus tending to frost-bite, which is a serious danger at high altitudes.
Sweaters, unless worn under a coat when practising or running downhill, are quite unsuitable as the snow gets into the stitches and then melts, and the sweater becomes a sponge and often stretches till it is more like a woman's coat-frock than anything it was before! A Ski-ing suit should be well provided with pockets, all of which should have flaps to button over and keep the snow out. Also to keep the contents in. Money and other things carried loose are apt to fall out in a downhill fall. Once this winter, when getting up from a fall, I saw what looked like a useful leather boot-lace lying in the snow. I picked it up and found it was the bootlace attached to two stop-watches, which I had been using for a test. As one cannot tie one's money up with a boot-lace, it is wise to carry it safely, and cheat the goatherds, who may surely make a profitable living out of the various treasures lost by Ski-ers, which appear on the slopes after the snow melts.
Women need very much the same sort of clothing as men. Either trousers or breeches, whichever they prefer. These should be made to measure in order to fit well and be worn with braces to pull them up. Thick boys' stockings should be worn to pull up over the breeches. If women would only realize how sloppy their nether garments sometimes look and how really horrid breeches look hanging loose over silk stockings indoors, they would surely be more careful to study and copy a man's neat legs before they venture into man's apparel.
One sometimes sees women's coats made with innumerable fancy buttons or tabs as decoration. These only add to the weight which no one would want to carry, and also look out of place. So does fur trimming. Ski-ing clothes cannot be too simple. Elaboration is easily obtained by bright-coloured gloves, scarves or swanks.
Coats should be made with a belt, which can be buckled tight before the descent. A sitting fall in soft snow is apt to provide the runner with a good dose of snow inside the coat. For the same reason breeches and trousers should be cut somewhat high above the waist.
Women need just as many pockets as men, and I strongly advise two large side pockets and two smaller breast pockets outside the coat, as well as two inside breast pockets—all with flaps to button over.
A felt hat is now usually worn by women Ski runners, who find the brim a comfort on sunny days, while it also protects the eyes when Ski-ing through a blizzard. Incidentally it helps to prevent snow from going down the neck in a head-first fall. A chin-strap may be required for fast running.
Boots are, perhaps, the most important part of a Ski runner's outfit. They must be water-proof and large enough to hold two pairs of socks in addition to stockings. The soles must be so stout that they will not buckle or bend under the instep when the Ski binding is tight. Heels must be low and should be slightly grooved at the back to hold the binding. I have no hesitation in saying that most of the Ski-ing boots sold in England prove to be unsatisfactory. Such firms as Lillywhite and Fortnum & Mason, which make a study of suitable equipment, may be trusted, and almost every Swiss bootmaker now sells trustworthy boots for Ski-ing. I always buy my own boots from Och, who has shops at Geneva, Montreux, Zuerich and St. Moritz. They can be relied on for at least two or three long seasons, if one is careful to oil the uppers with boot oil occasionally, and never to oil the soles except with linseed oil, which is said to harden them. On the whole, however, the soles are safest left untouched. Boots should never be dried on a radiator or by a fire. Personally I like hooks, rather than eyelets, and I find that leather boot-laces last longer than others.
There is much discussion as to whether Ski boots should have nails in the soles or not. They tend to wear away the aluminium or linoleum plates fixed to the Skis under the foot, but on the other hand they are almost indispensable when Skis are carried across a hard, steep slope, or down an icy path. It seems to me that it is positively dangerous to go any real Ski tour with unnailed boots unless crampons or spikes to fit on to the heels be carried. New plates can easily be fitted to the Skis when nails have worn through them, but nothing can help the Ski-er down a steep, icy path or across a hard frozen slope on smooth soles, unless he carries special contrivances to fix to his boots.
People are now trying crepe rubber soles, but they are not solid enough to bear the strain of tight bindings unless fixed to the usual thick leather sole, when the whole becomes too thick for comfort. My experience for several winters with beginners is that the soles of most English boots buckle as soon as they are subjected to the tight pull of a leather binding.
Few things are more irritating to a beginner than to find that his binding will not hold on his boot. Over and over again in a run down his Ski comes off and he delays his party by having to stop and put it on again. Still it will not hold even though he ties it on with string. Then he realizes that his boot is buckling. The sole arches up under the instep and the binding, becoming loose, slips off the heel.
There is no cure for this, and the only solution is to use a toe binding, such as the new B.B., or a solid binding such as the Ellessen or Lilienfeld, instead of a heel binding. As most hired Skis have the Huitfeldt heel binding it is essential to ensure that boots are of the very best.
Gloves are another very important item of clothing. They should be waterproof. This is easy to say but very difficult to obtain. The rub of the stick on the palm of the hand tends to sodden almost any material. Snow also gets inside during a fall and then, of course, even the waterproof glove comes home wet. The best gloves are paws made of thick horse-hide and lined with wool. They should have long gauntlets wide enough to pull up over the sleeves and they should be joined by a string going round behind the neck, under the coat collar, long enough to allow of free use of the hands, and this string should have another string joining it across the chest. It is often necessary to slip off a glove and if they are not safely hung round the neck they fall in the snow, which promptly runs inside, or they may be dropped and lost.
Socks are a matter for individual choice. Some people like goat's-hair socks, which have many of the qualities or disqualities of a hair shirt. They are prickly and, therefore, perfect as a counter-irritant under very cold conditions, but far too irritating for ordinary wear. I was much amused in a London shop last winter when I heard a Ski-ing expert advising a lady not to buy "those repulsive goat's-hair socks." When she had bought what he advised I said I had come especially to buy "a repulsive pair of socks." He immediately explained that he had advised the lady not to get them because they only had two pairs left, and he did not want to sell them. He let me have a pair, and the only time I wore them I thought with amusement of his advice and explanation. The lady was undoubtedly well out of them, and I hope never to use them again. Some people swear by them, so all tastes must be allowed for.
It seems to me better to wear two thin pairs of socks in addition to stockings, rather than one pair of thick socks. If these seem to fill the toes of the boot too much, the toe part of one pair of socks can be cut off, the remainder being worn as an anklet.
Swanks, or Norwegian puttees, may be used to tie the socks above or over the boot so as to prevent the snow from getting inside. Or shooting anklets may also be used, granted that they are large enough to go over the wide uppers of a Ski boot as well as the socks.
Footgear for Ski-ing is not elegant, but as every one wears the same, nobody need feel shy. It is another reason for buying in Switzerland. Ski boots of the right size bought in a London shop look so Gargantuan that people will often insist on having a smaller pair than is really useful when the time comes to wear them.
Spare clothing should invariably be carried on any run beyond the nursery slopes as, in case of an accident and delay in fetching help, a runner who is hurt may be badly frost-bitten. This, of course, only applies to high places during the months of December, January and early February, when the thermometer may often register 32 deg. of frost or more after the sun goes down.
When choosing equipment it is wise, therefore, to remember spare clothing, which should include a Cardigan or Jersey, a dry pair of woollen gloves, a dry pair of socks or stockings, a warm cap of some sort to cover the ears and a scarf. All these should be chosen for a combination of warmth and lightness. A wind-jacket is often recommended. Some people carry a thin silk, or oil silk, or even chamois leather, or paper waistcoat, to put on under their coats when a wind blows. This is not necessary for any but long tours in midwinter. A very useful "sail-cloth coat" specially made for Ski-ing can be bought in most Swiss sports-shops and is excellent.
The great thing to remember about clothing for Ski-ing is that climbing uphill you will probably get very hot and perspire freely. To stop in a biting wind in this condition without putting on spare clothing is obviously risky. It is difficult to ski freely in heavy thick clothes, so that everything should be warm and loose and made of wool except, perhaps, the wind-jacket or the Swiss coat, which can be worn over a sweater.
Cotton or linen underclothing will probably soon be discarded, but this is a personal matter, and need not be dealt with here.
The minimum amount of equipment should be purchased before going out. The Swiss shops are just as well provided with Ski-ing necessities as the British and it is expensive to take out heavy luggage. Most Swiss hotels will gladly store Skis or gear of any kind through the Summer, and these can be posted or forwarded by rail to any place the runner chooses for the following season.
Clothing has been dealt with in a former chapter. Here I propose to describe the equipment which I know, from experience, to be useful.
Skis can be bought in England or in Switzerland. One or two English firms, such as Lillywhite, which really take pains to obtain the best possible quality of goods, may be trusted to provide Norwegian Skis, but there are also several makers of good Skis in Switzerland. Skis should be made either of hickory or ash. Other woods such as birch and walnut have been tried but these do not appear to make as satisfactory Skis as hickory or ash. Hickory is heavy so that the beginner will do well to get ash Skis in the first instance. Their average length should be the height of the Runner with his arm extended above his head, the tip of the Ski when standing upright being in the palm of his hand and his fingers just able to bend over it. When the novice becomes more proficient, he may like to try longer or shorter Skis, but the average length is best to begin with.
Good makers, such as Bjornsted in Bern or Staub at Zurich, may be trusted to make their Skis right proportionately, and the buyer need not worry about their width or depth so long as the length is right. There is a great deal of difference in the line of a Ski, as there is in a boat. Flat ones are ugly compared with those which hump along the centre, but they are also lighter. It seems to me wise for the beginner to hire his first Skis, rather than to buy them. Most of the sports shops in the different centres are very obliging and will allow their clients to try two or three pairs of Skis in order to experience the difference between them.
They should not curve up too abruptly in front and they should be about one inch apart in the centre when laid flat one against the other. This spring adds greatly to the comfort of running and should be maintained by the Ski having a block of wood between them when put away for the Summer or even when laid by for two or three days.
The question of binding is a very serious one. Broadly there are three different types:
(1) Toe bindings, by which only the toe of the boot is attached to the Ski.
(2) Solid binding with a sole attached to the Ski.
(3) Leather heel bindings.
(1) I have tried two forms of toe bindings—the B.B. and the B.B.B. and gave them up for the following reasons. Firstly, I think it a dangerous binding. There is practically no give at all so that in a bad fall when the foot is twisted under one, if the Ski does not move the leg has to give way and may be broken. I think surgeons agree that there are more accidents as a result of wearing a B.B. binding than any other—so that it seems to me much better to start with another type of binding and then go into the B.B. later if preferred. Another drawback is that as the whole pivotal pressure in a turn is borne by the toe iron, when a B.B. binding is worn, the toe irons are always being forced open. Not only that, but the spring on the Ski which holds the hook on the boot is so strong that it tends to pull the boot through the toe irons, so that gradually the boot gets longer and more pointed and the spring no longer holds.
All this criticism may be due to prejudice on my part, but I have tried the B.B. with enthusiasm and only gave it up because I was convinced that a heel binding was more satisfactory. Since I tried it, two or three new forms of toe binding have been put on the market, the simplest of which seems to me to be the Davos form, which is merely a strap fixed to the Ski with an iron loop at the end to fit into the hook on the boot and an ordinary Huitfeldt spring buckle to fix it firmly.
(2) Solid bindings. The commonest forms of these are the Ellesen, Lilienfeld and Bilgeri, but as I have never tried any of them, I can say nothing about them.
(3) Heel bindings. There are two main forms of these—the Lap thong and the Huitfeldt. The Lap thong is merely a long strap of raw hide or leather. A loop is drawn through the hole under the toe iron, the long end is taken round the heel and through the loop, then back round the heel and through a slit in the other or short end. The long end is then carried under the foot and round the instep and finally tied off with a knot. This has been improved upon by a ring and buckle being added to save slitting the leather or knotting the ends.
The Huitfeldt binding is a thick double-leather strap, which buckles round the whole foot and has a strong spring to pull it taut when the binding has been slipped on to the heel. This is the usual binding on hired Skis.
I have tried both these bindings, and now wear a Scheer binding, which is a combination of the two—the long Lap thong with buckles and also a spring similar to the one tightening a Huitfeldt binding. The chief drawback to a Lap binding was that it took time to put on so that fingers got very cold and clumsy when fitting it before a run down from a height. The trouble about a Huitfeldt binding is that it is thick and clumsy and the buckles stick out so that they catch in the snow when running.
The Scheer binding avoids these drawbacks. It is put on just as easily as a Huitfeldt and the thin thong lies so closely along the boot that there is nothing to catch in the snow. It is very easily lengthened or shortened when the leather contracts or stretches and this is also a great comfort. This binding being new, may not yet be obtainable everywhere, but it is well worth trying to get. The Huitfeldt and Scheer bindings both tend to give a little in a strained fall, so that the foot slips round and the leg is usually saved.
Toe irons pass through the Ski under the toes and come up either side to hold the foot in place. They should be carefully fitted and, with a view to this, the boots should be left overnight with the sports shop and the Skis fetched next day. The boot should lie quite straight along the Ski. If the toe irons do not fit properly, the boot will be cock-eye on the Ski, and too much free play may take place. I have often seen beginners take advantage of this to stick their heels out and off the Ski into the snow to help them uphill, or to act as a brake downhill. They will rue it downhill, however, as the foot should be firmly held on the Ski or control will be impossible.
Toe irons are sometimes made of very soft metal. These are usually attached to Skis hired out by the sports shops in order that they may be easily fitted to the many different shaped feet of the hirers. When getting toe irons fitted to one's own Skis, it is wise to ask for strong ones, as the soft irons give too freely to the pivotal action of the feet in turns and tend to be constantly opening and becoming loose.
Cast-iron toe irons are often used in conjunction with toe bindings in order to avoid the difficulty of the irons being forced open by the boot being pulled through by the spring. These irons have one great fault. They have to be screwed on to the Ski and are very cold under the foot. This may be considered imagination, but I believe it to be true, in which case it may be prejudice.
The toe irons are joined over the toes by a leather toe-strap pulled through and buckled. The irons should be so high that this strap does not press at all on the boot, or restrict the free play of the toes. The whole binding should be so fitted that it is possible to kneel down on one's Skis.
Foot plates are nailed on the Ski under the foot. These are usually made of linoleum or aluminium. I prefer a thick plain aluminium plate, and find that the snow does not stick to it.
When the Skis have been chosen, sticks have to be provided. A pair of sticks should be used, one being carried in each hand. They are usually made of hazel or bamboo. The latter are light, but tend to split. I always use hazel, which are cheaper and very satisfactory.
Sticks should be so long that they reach to just above the waist and should not be very heavy though strong sticks are necessary for all real touring. They should have padded leather knobs at the tops, as these prevent the stick from slipping out of the hand and being dropped during a run, as well as saving the hand from blisters when the stick is much used in practising lifted stem or jump turns. Wooden knobs are often used but these tend to get coated with ice, which wets the glove and is uncomfortable.
A leather or webbing thong is passed through the stick or nailed under the knob as a loop to hang them up by, but should never be put round the wrist except for uphill work as the wrist might easily be broken in a bad fall, if the stick be attached to it. My great idea is to get rid of my sticks in a fall, as I once impaled my leg on the spike of my stick in a somersault. I was thankful that the spike was a short one and not one of the newfangled aluminium spikes which would have penetrated much further and might easily have done damage to the bone. Only a short spike is necessary—just long enough to go into crusted snow and hold.
The discs round the bottom of sticks should be large, about seven inches in diameter, and they should be loose so that they will lie flat with the Ski when packed. I prefer them put on with a thong which passes through the stick and is crossed backwards and forwards across the disc, allowing of plenty of free play in the disc. By this means, the thong does not cut where it passes through the stick. Discs are often made almost solid and then fixed to the stick with an iron hasp, which is apt to snap or to split the stick.
Sticks hired out with Skis usually have small discs and no knobs, and most beginners will soon wish to possess their own pair, which only cost about twelve francs. A word of advice here. Keep your sticks in your bedroom. Even in the best Ski-ing circles sticks sometimes disappear—and once your own sticks go, you are tempted to take anybody else's and so the mischief goes on!
The Rucksack is a very important item of equipment It should be waterproof and large, even if you do not intend to carry much. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a small full Rucksack, perching like a football on one's back. By the time a packed lunch and a cardigan as well as some spare gear is stuffed into the sack, it swells. Two outside pockets and one large inside division are indispensable. Keep wax, scraper, string, etc., in one outside pocket ready to hand. Map in the other.
Leather shoulder straps are the best as they do not cut the shoulder in the same way as webbing. I once hunted a great many London shops in vain for a Rucksack with leather shoulder straps. They all had thin webbing, which soon turns into a wisp and hurts the muscles of the shoulder. The leather straps should finish on a ring at the top which should be attached to the top of the Rucksack by a leather tab firmly sewn on. This is a much safer system than running the string, which pulls up the top of the sack, through the shoulder straps at the back, because the pull on the string chafes it and gradually cuts through it. Some experienced runners prefer the Bergans Rucksack on an aluminium frame. It is unquestionably heavier than the ordinary sack, but the frame resting on the hips helps to distribute the weight and it is said to be less tiring to carry. Another joy about it is that the frame keeps the sack off the back, so that there is an air space, and the usual poultice effect of an ordinary Rucksack is avoided.
There are many different types of Rucksack to be had in Switzerland. They should be waterproof and as the waterproof material is very expensive now, a good serviceable sack costs at least Frs. 17.00 to 25.00. The better Rucksacks have straps fixed outside for carrying one's coat or possibly sealskins. (Sohms skins should be carried inside the sack.) I advise people to carry the various contents of their sacks in different bags, or tied up in handkerchiefs. This may sound old-maidish, but it is a trick I learnt from Swiss climbers and I am very thankful. Anyone who has hurriedly searched his sack for some particular bit of gear knows the sort of haystack which results, while if first-aid equipment, sealskins, spare bindings, emergency rations, mending outfit, etc., are all carried in separate, differently coloured bundles inside the sack, endless time is saved. This is particularly worth considering in a blizzard, when fingers are cold and nothing can be found.
Skins are used for climbing uphill on tour. They consist of long strips of sealskin, which are attached to the running surface of the Skis. The hairs lying towards the back of the Ski catch in the snow and prevent the Skis from slipping backwards, which is a great help and saving of energy. The Skis can be kept in good slipping condition with oil or wax, and when the skins are taken off at the top of a run, very little further preparation is necessary.
There are two forms of sealskins:
(1) Sohms skins, which are attached to the Skis with wax.
(2) Those made up on canvas with straps to fix them to the Skis.
The latter can usually be hired by the day for about Frs. 3.00 from the local sports shop, and cost about Frs. 20.00 to buy. Most runners now use the Sohms skins, the great gain being that one can run downhill almost as well when they are still on, so that on a tour with one or two short descents en route, the Skis may be left on.
Waxes are of many kinds, and some runners, not content with what they buy, prefer to mix their own.
The waxes most used in Switzerland are Skiolin, both hard and soft, Sohms' with red, yellow or green label, and Parafine.
I have found that hard Skiolin ironed into the running surface of the Ski with a hot iron, provides a good surface. Sohms' wax being a climbing wax is apt to stick to some kinds of snow and if Sohms' skins have been used, it is wise to scrape all this wax off before the run down and to polish the Ski with Parafine wax if it needs a finish. On hard snow this is not necessary.
Some waxes are used as climbing wax instead of skins, but as different sorts are needed for different types of snow, they complicate life almost more than is worth while.
A very good permanent surface on Skis is obtained by oiling them repeatedly with linseed oil, allowing them to dry thoroughly between each coat of oil. This is a somewhat lengthy process and an impossible one if the Skis are in daily use, but it is much the best method at the beginning or end of the season.
The best Sohms' skins are dark grey or black and they cost about Frs. 25. The leather surface should be carefully waxed with green label Sohms' wax before starting on an expedition. The wax should be very thinly spread, and it is wise to get this job done at leisure overnight and to lay the skins together with their waxed surfaces touching, and to keep them in a warm room, but not near a heater or stove.
When starting on an excursion wear the skins wound round your body under your coat so that they remain warm and supple until required. Then wax the running surfaces of the Skis with yellow label Sohms' wax as sparingly as possible. It should be spread smoothly and without lumps. When putting on the skins lay them along the Skis from the tip towards the back and run your thumb down the line of the centre groove in the Ski, while you press the skin on evenly over the whole Ski.
New skins are apt to shrink after use, so it is better not to cut the strap, which slips over the tip of the Ski. The best plan is to make a second slit in this strap and slip it on, and then if the skin is still too long turn the end part up over the Ski at the back, sticking it on with wax. Then, when the skins have been used for two or three days, it is easier to decide what length the strap should be.
Having put your skins on, lay the Skis flat on the snow so that the skins will freeze on.
Sealskins must never be dried by a heater or stove as the heat shrivels them and they are ruined.
When not in use, they can be kept rolled up in a bag and should be carried in the Rucksack rather than hanging on outside. Frozen skins are very difficult to attach.
A scraper should invariably be carried when Ski-ing, even on the Nursery slopes. These are made of aluminium and the best type has a groove which will fit into the groove of the Ski and scrape this as well as the flat surface, as ice is apt to adhere there also. Some runners carry, attached to their belt, a Norwegian hunting knife in its case. This is excellent for scraping the Skis and for any purpose for which a strong knife may be wanted, but it always seems to me that it would be a nasty thing to fall on.
A strong ordinary knife should invariably be carried. The Swiss military knife is the best possible as it seems to include practically everything necessary. A really good one costs about Frs. 12.00 or Frs. 14.00, though inferior steel may be had for a great deal less. It should have a ring and be attached to the belt.
Dark spectacles or goggles should be included in equipment.
A mending outfit is often needed, and at least one member of every party going on tour should carry something with which to mend broken Skis. There are many patterns of spare Ski tip on the market, all of which may be useful in certain circumstances, but I have no doubt that the wooden Ski tip is the best. It is just an ordinary front part of a Ski, about two feet long and planed off, so that it will lie close to the broken Ski. This is fixed on by metal clamps, which are made on purpose and can be bought in most winter sports shops. Holes, at different intervals fitting the clamps which should be put on lengthwise, may be bored beforehand in the Ski tip, in order to save time when the tip may be needed on tour. The gimlet supplied with the clamps is usually a poor one, and I always carry a spare gimlet, a little larger than is necessary, as it is difficult to make the holes in exactly the right place in a broken Ski. Cold and clumsy hands have always to be reckoned with when Ski-ing.
The clamps being somewhat roughly made are apt to break so that one should carry at least five pairs. In putting them on, take care not to drop the little square nut off the bolt into powder snow as it sinks at once and may be irretrievably lost.
Other makes of spare Ski tips include one made of cast aluminium produced by Lillywhite, who will probably improve upon it, as at present it seems to me to be too flat. The method of fixing it is, however, a good one.
The Swiss sports shops also keep light tips made of tin and copper, which are affixed by various methods, but they are usually too short and thin to be more than a makeshift.
If a Ski is broken near the front, the wooden Ski tip, when properly adjusted enables one to run any distance quite comfortably and even permits of turns. It is clumsy to carry except in a Bergans Rucksack. A long, narrow pocket might be sewn diagonally across the back of an ordinary Rucksack in which to carry it, but I am afraid it would be uncomfortable. I tried such a pocket vertically and found it quite intolerable and even dangerous in some falls.
Mending outfit must also include a spare binding and a toe strap, as well as some string and cord, wire, and two or three leather boot-laces. The best spare binding to carry is a Lap thong, as it is easier to push through than a Huitfeldt, unless a thin single strap is carried for the front part of the latter. In any case a bit of wire facilitates the pulling through of the thong or strap.
An inexperienced runner, who has not used a Lap thong, should try fitting one at home before depending on it in emergency, as it is a little tricky to put on at first.
Runners going any distance on tour should carry some sort of first-aid equipment. It need not be elaborate, but should include bandages, a clean dressing (a first field dressing is the best and most compact), iodine and adhesive plaster, and some vaseline or boracic ointment. Even a scratch will go on bleeding on a cold day and be very tiresome. Accidents are miraculously few and far between in Ski-ing, considering the falls and the large number of people who ski. But they happen occasionally, and it is as well to be prepared.
The list of gear could be prolonged to any extent, as "What to carry in my Rucksack" becomes an enthralling hobby. Everyone will eventually decide what he thinks he ought to have, in order to come home with a free conscience after any eventuality. Another runner has suggested my adding a pair of small pincers, a pocket tool outfit, matches or fusees, an electric torch, scissors.
Weight has to be considered, as the more the Ski runner carries the greater the effort, but there is undoubtedly great satisfaction in feeling that one has everything which might be helpful in any emergency. If three or four runners are going together the whole gear can be distributed among them, but this makes it more necessary than ever for the party to keep together as a spare Ski tip or similar luxury is no use at the bottom of a run when the accident is near the top.
Even if one does not need all the gear oneself, it seems better to be prepared to help other people who are in difficulties.
The following lists show firstly what I think every runner going several miles beyond home ought to carry; and secondly what a great many runners carry in addition:
(1) A strong knife with corkscrew, leather punch, tin opener, etc.
(2) A Ski tip, gimlet and mending outfit.
(4) String and cord.
(5) Spare binding and toe strap.
(6) Dark yellow glasses (Triplex are safest).
(7) Siren or strong whistle.
(8) Emergency ration of some sort, such as chocolate, raisins, dates.
(9) Spare clothing including cardigan or sweater, dry gloves, dry socks, scarf, cap to cover ears.
(10) First-aid equipment.
(12) Wax and scraper.
Some runners carry all these things and the following besides:
Matches, lantern (folding), or electric torch, aneroid, compass, pincers, hammer, brandy, thermos with some hot drink.
A great many people will laugh at me for suggesting all this gear, but I do so out of experience. When one has ski-ed some years with a good many people, one looks back with amusement to the number of times when one has been asked to provide any of the above.
People go out without spare clothing, food, first-aid equipment, repair outfit. Something happens, and they at once look round to see where they can borrow. Now borrowing is not part of the game and every runner should be independent. It is easy when going on tour, to divide up the gear so that every member of the party carries his share; it is not necessary for each member to carry the whole of what I have shown. Let each carry enough to feel self-reliant, and let the party carry enough not only for their own needs, but also for any other runner in distress whom they may come across. Ski-ing should be an unselfish sport.
At a certain centre one Winter, word was brought in at about 3.30 p.m. by a member of a party of three that one of his companions was lying in the forest about a mile away with a badly broken leg. Three runners dashed off from the Nursery slopes with the man who brought the news, to show them the way. I posted a friend to watch where they entered the wood, while two other strong runners fetched clothing and hot drinks in a thermos. Somebody else called up the Rettung chef and the doctor. All this help was mobilized within an hour.
Meanwhile the man was lying in the snow in the wood with a badly broken lower leg. The sun had set and the temperature very low. Not one of the party had any spare clothing or gear of any sort. A sensible man, who had been one of the first three to go off from the slopes told me afterwards that if hot drink and clothing had not come soon, he was convinced that the man would have died. As it was he was nearly unconscious and his pulse had nearly stopped.
Dark came on and the doctor and the ambulance sledge did not arrive. Instead of going the way the others had disappeared, they tried a route they thought easier and took too high a line in the forest. The trees muffled sound, and though both parties were shouting and whistling, they heard nothing till at about 6.30 p.m. one of the watchers heard a runner near and went off after him in the dark and luckily found him. This man was scouting for the doctor and sledge and finally brought them to the scene of the accident at 7 p.m.
By this time some one or two of the watchers had gone home nearly frozen, leaving all possible clothing on the injured man. Three others stayed and rubbed him without intermission, which probably saved his life and limbs. The doctor had brought a splint which he put on by light of an electric torch and the man was taken to the station and sent off at once to the hospital.
Now, all this happened within a mile of home where help was handy. Such accidents happening several miles from home may have far more serious consequences, and every Ski runner, who scoffs at the precautions of people more fussy than themselves, may very likely have the life or limb of someone else on their mind when, had they been a little more fussy, they might have saved it.
Not only that, the selfish runner, who travels light, may well be a serious burden to others and risk their safety and comfort through his own foolhardiness.
Ski-ing is a game which sorts people out, and where the character of people like sailors, who know what it is to face the elements, shows up well against the civilian, whose greatest risk in life at home is crossing a street at a busy hour.
People may ski for years without getting hurt, and the experienced runner probably hurts himself less than the beginner. Yet it is the experienced runner who carries the gear, the beginner it is who usually scoffs and takes risks, not only to himself, but to the people who have to go out to look for him when he is benighted or hurt.
CARE OF EQUIPMENT
Skis call for a good deal of attention if one takes the game seriously. People who only come out for a fortnight and who hire any pair of Skis, which they treat as they would the floor of an omnibus, have no appreciation of how much attention Skis need, if they are to be really dependable in all sorts of snow.
New Skis should be well-oiled with two or three coats of Linseed oil, which should dry between each coat. I think hickory needs the oil just as much as ash, but some people disagree with this. The oil hardly goes beyond the surface of the wood and soon rubs off on hard snow, but it preserves the wood as well as giving a slipping surface so long as it lasts. Newly oiled Skis when dry need very little further attention for a few days, as they will run well over all sorts of snow.
When there is no time to oil, because the Skis are in daily use, wax can be ironed in. Most good sports hotels now provide a bench with an electric iron in a special heated and lighted room where the Ski-runner can work happily after tea, or on a snowy day. If no such room be provided, it should be clamoured for, because the waxing of Skis is a much more difficult job without it. The patent iron "Para" is helpful where no electric iron is provided. "Para" is an oblong perforated metal box with a handle which screws in. A lump of Meta (solid spirit fuel) is lighted and put inside and the iron becomes hot and is rubbed up and down the Ski, while wax is pressed against it and dribbled on to the wood.
Almost any wax can be ironed in, but I think the hard black "Skiolin" is best for the purpose. Be careful to wax the groove as well as the flat surface of the Ski.
When Skis are put away for the summer, the upper as well as the running surfaces should be oiled or re-varnished in order to preserve the wood.
Leather bindings may be well oiled with special boot oil to keep them supple.
Skis should never be kept in a hot place, as they are apt to warp, but they should be kept dry when put away.
Boots should never be dried by a fire or on a heater, but should be stored in a cool place. They need occasional oiling of the uppers with some sort of boot oil. Dubbin may also be used and is good for filling places, such as between the sole and the upper. The soles should never be oiled, except perhaps with Linseed oil, which hardens the leather. I think the wisest plan is to leave the soles dry, but if snow balls on them they can be waxed with Ski wax. This is often specially necessary on the heel. If boots be put outside the bedroom every night, the porter will oil them automatically, in most good hotels.
Sealskins should be wrapped up in newspaper and stored in a cool place when put away. Moth will ruin them if left open and heat crumples them, making them useless. A friend told me that when her seal Skis (webbing ones) were ruined by being put near a fire, she recovered them by soaking them in salad oil. She was certainly using them quite happily afterwards.
THE ELEMENTS OF SKI-ING
This book does not profess to be in any way a textbook of the technique of Ski-ing. As stated in the preface, my only idea in writing it is to provide an answer to a good many questions which have been asked me every year. Anyone who deals with a great many people knows that there are always some fifty stock questions, which can quite easily be answered by fifty stock answers. What I say in this chapter about the first run will be the barest elements of Ski running.
Beginners should obtain either Arnold Lunn's books, or those of Vivien Caulfield, and concentrate on the theory of turns. I have known two or three novices who, though they had never even seen Skis before, by dint of studying the technique in theory before they came out, were able immediately to apply it in practice. Most beginners find, however, that the moment the Skis start sliding, all theory is thrown to the winds. Instinct of self-preservation prevails and they sit down. Kind friends looking on say, "That was because you were leaning backwards. You must lean forwards." Off they start again, carry out the advice, their Skis stick for some reason and down they go head foremost—the most difficult fall of all to get up from, and the most aggravating.
The great thing is not to do too much the first two days after coming out. The height affects people more than they realize at first, and great energy, due to the bracing air, is often followed by great lassitude. Most people are not in training, and Ski-ing tries the lungs, nerves, and muscles of the fittest as the whole system seems to be brought into play.
A few hours' practice on the Nursery slopes is usually enough for the first two or three days, and if, at the end of the week, the beginner seems to be falling more than when he first began, half or even a whole day off Skis will produce wonderful results in better balance and general fitness.
Having chosen Skis, and ensured that the toe irons and binding fit you, go out to some gentle slope of about 10 deg. with soft snow, if possible.
Set your Skis at right angles to, or across, the fall of the slope before putting them on, because Skis are quite apt to go off alone if pointing down, hill. It is as well to realize this from the first and to adopt the habit of preventing it in the way I suggest, because many a run has been ruined by a Ski descending alone to the valley below, leaving its owner to get home as best he can on one leg. Even if it only goes down some 100 or 200 feet, the friend who goes after it and brings it back often has a good deal to say, and you are lucky if the Ski has not struck a rock or tree and got broken in its independent run. It is no good getting angry on these occasions. I once watched a boy on a distant slope, who had been obliged to descend some hundreds of feet after one of his Skis. When he got hold of it in a temper he started beating it with his stick, and continued doing so till the stick nearly broke.
While on the subject of runaway Skis, I may as well warn you also against a runaway Rucksack. I put mine down at my feet on a steep hard-crusted slope while I took off my coat one day, and the Rucksack started sliding slowly down below us. The party was made up of beginners and we had ropes on our Skis instead of skins so that no one could catch it up till it stopped about 200 feet below us. To add insult to injury at the same time, somebody dropped a 50-ct. bit at the same moment and this danced off down into the valley, racing the Rucksack and beating it hollow.
But to return to the start. The Skis are safely lying across the slope, and you are going to put them on. Put on the lower one first. Never forget this, because it will often prevent a runaway Ski. If the slope is very steep and hard, you should stick the other Ski upright in the snow above you, in order that it may remain well in hand while you put on the first. You will probably find it impossible to put on your Skis with gloves on. If you lay these on the snow, they will undoubtedly get snow inside them. The safest place to put them is one on each stick, stuck upright on either side of you, or tuck them into your belt or pockets.
When you have your Skis and gloves on and everything else is hermetically sealed, you are ready to start sliding or traversing slowly across the slope, before going straight down it. This will give you time to get the feeling of Skis, which are clumsy at first. Slide one foot forward, then the other, but do not lift them. Now try a kick turn and come back across the slopes to the top and face straight downhill. Keep your Skis closely side by side, one foot leading by about twelve inches and push yourself off with your sticks. Try to imagine that the Skis are only a moving staircase and that all you have to do is to stand upright on them and let them do the rest. If your slope is only 10 deg. and there is nothing steeper below you, the Skis won't do much. Indeed in deep snow they may refuse to move at all, in which case try pushing yourself along with your sticks. The great thing is always to want to run faster than you are going and, therefore, only to choose slopes where you feel that you can keep up as fast as the Skis go. It is a mistake to start immediately down such a steep slope that the Skis run away with you. At the same time it is also a mistake not to increase the angle of your slope as soon as you can compete with it.
Stand upright, press the knees together and try to feel that there is a spring in your knees. Let one or other foot lead so that, if the Skis stop, the front foot takes your weight and prevents you plunging forwards and if the Skis suddenly plunge forward, the back foot is equally ready to take the weight and prevents you from sitting down.
Whatever you do, avoid the hideous doubled-up position of a runner, who bends at waist and knees, with feet parallel and far apart, looking like a note of interrogation and leaving what we call tram-line tracks. By his tracks shall a Ski-er be judged!
Look back and see the line you have left. If your two feet have left two tracks with more than six inches apart in soft snow, you must not be contented. In a good track, the two feet should leave one track, but some bindings make this impossible, so that unless you are wearing a toe binding you need not worry about a gap of two or three inches between your feet. This only applies to soft snow running. On hard or crusty snow, it is almost impossible and also dangerous to keep the feet together.
When you have begun to feel at home on Skis, go off to a much steeper slope and try traversing. Choose a slope which has flattish ground below so that you have an easy out-run and nothing to make you nervous.
Remember for your comfort that if you go across a slope leading with the upper foot and with most of your weight on the lower foot—standing upright and, if anything, leaning a little outwards away from the slope, you can traverse across almost any slope without difficulty, so long as it is not too steep for the snow to bear your weight without slipping itself. Nothing is more comforting to a beginner than to realize this. It takes away the feeling of giddiness and gives confidence, but it needs learning and should be practised at once.
The first tendency of Skis on a steepish slope is to point more and more downhill till, finally having intimidated the beginner into allowing them to go their own way, they plunge straight down, and the beginner collapses. To counteract this put more weight on the heel and less on the toes while traversing.
This will push the back part of the Skis down and the front part uphill across the slope and, if done sufficiently, the Skis will stop and you have begun to get some feeling of control when traversing.
Standing upright the inner edge of your Skis will bite into the snow. Try leaning inwards, as you will do by instinct, and you will find your feet slipping away down the slope and you will gracefully recline full length against it. It is exactly the same when walking across a steep grass slope in Summer. Most of the slips are due to leaning towards instead of away from the slopes.
As you get more confidence in your running, try lifting one Ski off the ground as you slide along. Or even take off one Ski and try running on the other; lifting a Ski will often save a fall. For instance if the Skis get crossed, just lift the upper one and put it down beside the other again while running. It is perfectly easy and yet I have known people who, after weeks of practice, dared not lift a Ski off the ground while moving, only because they had never tried it as routine practice.
Whatever you do by way of practice do it first on one foot and then on the other, or you will become a right or left-footed Ski-er and it will take ages for you to feel equal confidence in either foot. This applies especially to turns. Beginners will often go on practising a turn on the right foot, till they can do it and then have to re-learn it completely on the left foot.
Straight running downhill is mainly a question of confidence and balance. As said before, it is better at first to avoid straight running down a steep slope, because the Skis may go so fast that the beginner is quite incapable of keeping up with them and a fall at very high speed is somewhat upsetting and may temporarily shake your nerve.
Choose a low gradient of about 12 deg. or 15 deg. where you can see the out-run which should be on to level ground or even a gentle rise so that the Skis gradually pull up of their own accord. Soft snow is the easiest and confidence may soon be won in this.
Stand upright or bend the knees, but do not bend at the waist. You should feel as though on springs and you want your weight should be well forward over your feet so that you can keep up with the Skis. Standing in tube or bus, facing the way you are going and not holding on to anything is very good practice at home. You will notice that a bus conductor usually gives with the movement of the bus, so that he is prepared for whatever it does. So with Ski-ing. Look ahead and see what the ground is like, and then suit your balance to what is likely to occur as the ground rises or falls. This soon becomes automatic but it needs thinking out at first.
When the snow is hard, practise side slipping, because it will help you out of many difficulties and once you know the feeling of it, you will find that it replaces the downhill side-stepping, which is so slow.
On hard snow, it is possible to go down broadside on by merely standing on one's Skis and turning one's outer or lower ankle outwards and one's inner or upper ankle towards the other, so that the Skis are lying flat on the snow, instead of the edges biting into it. Push off with your stick from the slope above you and weight your heels or your toes according to whether the Skis are sinking in front or behind. Have confidence, keep upright, lean away from the slopes and let your Skis slide and don't blame me if you suddenly slide into a soft patch of snow, which stops the Skis dead and you fall head downwards. This is all in the day's work. If the surface of the snow is uniformly hard you will slip down without difficulty.