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Arnold Lunn - History Of Ski-ing
The strength of this book is its coverage of the development of skiing in central Europe from the 1880s through 1920s, which corresponds with the birth of Alpine ski mountaineering. The author corresponded with many of the pioneers of that period, and the book is authoritative in this area. The book is weak in its coverage of skiing in Norway. For the early history of skiing, the author relies on the work of E.C. Richardson in his book "The Ski-Runner." Later researchers have probed the early history of skiing deeper than this book does.


p. 3: "The best things in a man's life are often his hobbies, and if he will not take his hobbies seriously life will lose half its charm. And mountaineering is something more than a hobby... And so I make no apology for this attempt to trace the history of our noble sport."

Chapter 1 - The Early History of Ski-ing

p. 7: The earliest record of skiing noted by the author occurs in Procopius (526-559 A.D.), who mentions a race of Skridfinnar--gliding Finns. It is probable that skis were used centuries earlier. The word "suski" from the original Finno-Ugrian vocabulary, means "snow-glide-shoes." Linguistic studies indicate that the word goes back at least three thousand years.

p. 9: The use of skis was mainly utilitarian until recent times. This book places the start of skiing as a modern sport in 1870, when some Telemark skiers visited Christiania and gave an exhibition of skiing. (The visit begs the obvious question of what the Telemarkers had been doing on their home ground.) In 1877 the Christiania Ski Club was formed and in 1883 the Norwegian Ski Association was founded.

Chapter 2 - The Triumph of Ski-ing

p. 15: The Austrian writer Valvasor described the peasants of Krain as expert skiers in a book published in 1689. According to the author, skiing disappeared in Austria then reappeared in the 1840s, only to disappear again. Neither instance produced a permanent school of ski-runners, according to the author. (It seems likely that skiing continued at a low level, more than the record shows.)

Skiing emerged in several countries on the Continent during the 1870s and 1880s. The author describes early skiing in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The common thread is the emergence of skiing (or at least records of it) in most of these countries around the 1880s. (One wonders if this consistency is due in part to the age of the author's informants.)

In the winter of 1890-91, the first central European ski club was founded at Munich. The first ski races ever held in central Europe took place at Murzzuschlag, Austria in 1893. The author describes the birth of the Black Forest school in Germany, which promoted Norwegian methods, and the Lilienfeld school of Austria, headed by Mathias Zdarsky.

In January 1884 the first ski ascent of the Brocken in Germany was made by two Norwegians. Two Englishmen skied up the Brocken that same month. On January 28-29, 1893, the first genuine Alpine ski expedition was completed when Christoph Iselin and companions crossed the Pragel Pass in Switzerland. On February 8 of the same year, Iselin and Jenny climbed and descended the Schild (2,302 m.), the first real Alpine summit to be climbed on ski. In January 1896 a German party led by Wilhelm Paulcke made the first ski ascent of a 3,000 meter Alpine peak, the Oberalpstock (but see lunn-1952-p44).

p. 36: The author sums up the period 1883-1900: "The development of ski-ing outside Scandinavia took place during the two last decades of the 19th century... In almost every country the pioneers have either been Norwegians, or have been men who have learnt to ski in Norway... Dr. [Fridtjof] Nansen, perhaps more than any other, contributed, indirectly rather than directly, to the advancement of ski-ing in Europe. His account of his traverse of Greenland on ski was read throughout Europe, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the number of eminent ski-runners who were inspired to master ski-ing by Dr. Nansen's book."

Wild misconceptions of skiing in the early days are reflected by this quote from the Weiner Fremdenblatt:

"On the descent the ski-runner leans back on his stick, and shuts his eyes. Then he darts downward straight as an arrow, and continues till he can no longer breathe. He then throws himself sideways on the snow, and waits until he regains his breath, and then once again hurls himself downwards till once more he loses his breath, and throws himself on the snow, and so forth until he reaches the valley."

Chapter 3 - The Battle of the Bindings

p. 38: Photo of Mathias Zdarsky on a steep slope holding a single bamboo pole.

p. 39: This chapter describes the feud over ski technique between Mathias Zdarsky, founder of the Lilienfeld school and various defenders of the Norwegian style of skiing. The translation of Nansen's book in 1891 gave Zdarsky his first impulse towards skiing. In 1896, Zdarsky published "Lilienfelder Skilauf Technik." He taught hundreds of people to ski using a system based on short skis, spring bindings and a single pole. The system emphasized speed control and the snowplow position. It was criticized by writers such as Wilhelm Paulcke and Vivian Caulfeild for turning out skiers who glided poorly and relied on stick-riding. The author calls Zdarsky the Hermit of Lilienfeld.

p. 46: A quote from Dr. Arnold Fanck, author of "Wunder des Schneeschuhs" and a student of Hannes Schneider, asserts that the Norwegian techniques were not well developed for the steep terrain of the Alps and that the "Alpine ski-runners have out-distanced the Norwegians in the technique of downhill running." Whether true or not, it is an interesting statement of how some early Alpine skiers viewed Norwegian skiing.

p. 49: In 1905, Zdarsky challenged the Norwegians to compete in a slalom on very steep ground. The Norwegians politely declined, and disputed Zdarsky's claim to have invented the stemming turn. Hansa Horn of Christiania traveled to Lilienfeld and skied with Zdarsky. His courtesy patched up their differences. The author says that a careful reading of Horn's report reveals that Horn did not find much difficulty in keeping up with Zdarsky.

Chapter 4 - Winter Mountaineering on Foot

This chapter describes the phase that preceded the birth of ski mountaineering. It contains some good quotes.

p. 58: "The ski mountaineer not only shares with the winter climber many common experiences: he is bound to him by a spiritual link far stronger than that which unites the ski mountaineer with the ski-runner who never leaves the lower hills.

p. 59: "Mountaineering in its ultimate essence is not merely mountain travel. It is a duel between inanimate nature and the spirit of man, and the first duty of the mountaineer is to preserve the reality of this contest. A virgin peak is a problem, but once the peak has been proved climbable new conditions must be introduced in order that the struggle, which would lose all significance if its outcome was certain, may be renewed with redoubled zest. Guideless climbing, the forcing of virgin ridges on peaks which are no longer virgin, winter mountaineering and ski mountaineering are all modes of the same mental attitude. Difficulties, artificial difficulties if you will, are invented in order that the game may continue, for a game in which one side is assured of a walk-over would soon cease to find players."

"The ski-runner has to solve two problems, the problem of getting to the summit, and the problem of getting the best possible run on the descent. He tries to show that the mountain can be made to satisfy the demands of two great sports, to provide both mountaineer and ski-runner with the emotions peculiar to their respective crafts."

p. 79: In England, Colonel Strutt wrote, "Ski are only suitable as originally used in Norway, for the ascent of gentle grass or shale summits or as aids to serious mountaineering to enable one to reach a club hut." Noting the lack support for ski mountaineering among prominent English climbers, the author writes: "Abroad the mountaineers retained control over ski mountaineering. With us the ski-runners were left in control."

Chapter 5 - Mountaineering on Ski

p. 83: "It is convenient to restrict the term Mountaineering on Ski to those expeditions which involve the use of rope or axe and which traverse ground where the summer tourist would not venture unaccompanied by guides. We might define as Ski Touring any tour which is confined to grass or shale mountains... Mountaineering on ski, properly speaking, begins when the ski-runner reaches the glaciers or crosses the summer snowline."

p. 84: The author writes that ski mountaineering dates from Wilhelm Paulcke's traverse of the Bernese Oberland in January 1897. A photo of the party is shown: W. Paulcke, V. de Beauclair, R. Monnichs, Dr. Ehrert and W. Lohmuller. The author provides a detailed account of the expedition.

p. 88: On March 23, 1898, Oscar Schuster and Heinrich Moser climbed Monte Rosa on ski in fourteen hours from the hut to the summit. The author notes that the golden age of ski mountaineering might be defined as from 1898 to 1926, the year in which almost the last of the 4,000 meter Alpine peaks, Ecrins and Meije, were conquered on ski.

p. 89: "Passes have, perhaps, more significance to the ski-runner than peaks. Ski-ing did not begin as a sport but as a method of passing from one snow-bound valley to the next, and though the immediate need has vanished, the sky-line still lures the ski-runner with its suggestion of happy valleys beyond, where the snow is forever powdery, where neither wind nor thaw doth corrupt and where rocks do not break through. Ski have normally to be left below the final rock or ice ridges of a peak, but the traverse of a pass is essentially a ski expedition from start to finish."

p. 89: The first attempts to ski the high level route from Chamonix to Zermatt were made in 1903 by parties including Dr. Payot and Dr. Helbling. In 1908 Monsieur Beaujard and Joseph and E.D. Ravanel skied from Chamonix to Zermatt by a lower route. In January 1911, Professor Roget and Marcel Kurz were the first to stick consistently to the glacier route between Bourg St. Pierre and Zermatt.

p. 91: The author describes the contributions of Dr. Henry Hoek of Germany and Colonel Bilgeri of Austria. Hoek traversed the Oberland on ski in November 1900 and was the first to explore the area around the Wetterhorn. Bilgeri introduced skis to the Tiroler Corps and was one of the first to recognize the value of skiing in summer. He wrote a book on the training of Alpine troops and commanded the Alpine campaign along the Austro-Italian frontier during World War I. The author describes the contributions of Marcel Kurz of Switzerland, calling him "the leading winter and ski mountaineer of the day." F.F Roget published the first book on ski mountaineering to appear in the English language, Ski Runs in the High Alps. Roget pulled his readers' legs when he propounded the famous "cow" test for avalanches:

"When in doubt," he tells us, "the ski-runner should ask himself--'Are cows as I know them likely to feel comfortable when standing on this slope in summer?' If an affirmative answer can be given in a bona-fide manner, the slope is not dangerous."
In 1909, Professor Roget and the author made a six-day traverse of the Oberland glaciers, crossing the range end-to-end. In 1912 the Alpine Ski Club of Britain published the first skiing guide to any district in Switzerland, the Bernese Oberland. The author writes that in France competitive skiing long received more attention than ski mountaineering. But in the 1926, Pierre Dalloz and D. Armand-Delille climbed the Mieje, "perhaps the finest climb ever attempted in winter." Count Bonacossa of Italy "is probably the only ski-runner who can claim to have skied the Alps from end to end," having skied in almost every Alpine group.

Chapter 6 - Spring and Summer Skiing

p. 113: "The pioneer ski tours in the High Alps were almost all accomplished in mid-winter... Ski-ing in late spring and summer ski-ing, are comparatively recent developments."

p. 116: "The limits of ski-ing are defined not by particular seasons but by a particular type of peak. The old division--winter mountaineering on ski, summer climbing on foot--no longer holds good. The correct division is between ski mountains and foot mountains."

Chapter 7 - The Old School and the New

p. 118: The author discusses the hazards of ski mountaineering and the resistance to the new sport, especially in England. He argues that ski mountaineering is at least as safe as winter mountaineering on foot, and that it has contributed more than mountaineering on foot to the science of snowcraft. And finally: "It is only in ski mountaineering that the man who is a ski-runner no less than a mountaineer, and a mountaineer no less than a ski-runner, can find the full complete fulfilment of hills and the snow."

Chapter 28 - Do We Enjoy Ski-ing?

In this rambling essay the author touches on ski tests, specialization, technical progress, racing, funiculars and more. He writes: "A man is not necessarily vile because he climbs a hill merely to slide down it as rapidly and skillfully as possible." (p. 349)

Appendix II - A History of Ski-ing in Sweden - by Count C.G.D. Hamilton

p. 363: The author writes that "ski-ing in Sweden is older than history." Poets of the ninth century refer to ships as "the ski of the sea." The Swedes probably began to ski during the Viking era. For a time the custom was to use a long ski on one foot and a short ski, called the andor, on the other. The andor was permanently covered with sealskin and used for pushing. Skiing as a sport arose only in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Appendix III - The Arlberg School

p. 376: The author (Lunn) discusses the fundamental principles of the Arlberg school and profiles Hannes Schneider. He describes the zeal with which some Arlbergers discourage maneuvers such as the Telemark and the Lifted Stem. "If you lift in a class the instructor will dash after you and beat you on the lifted leg with his ski stick," warned an old friend. The author expresses respect for Schneider, who he describes as "a born leader with a magnetic personality."

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Last Updated: Fri Feb 28 22:37:38 PST 2003