John Hill traces skiing’s rise and rise
You read correctly – it was we Brits, rather our aristocrats, who started the skiing and winter sports industry proper, and helped grow it into a multi-billion £ worldwide money-spinner. Here GOOD Ski Guide tells how it all happened..
Back in the Victorian age towns and cities so bad were so bad with toxic winter pea-souper fogs spreading diseases such as cholera and typhoid from streets lined with horse-transport droppings that it forced the wealthy classes to escape to the mountains and holiday there just to breathe clean pure air.
Then in the late 1890s Sherlock Holmes’s author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whilst nursing his sick wife in Davos, had a eureka moment when watching Swiss locals shopping by scooting around the snowy hills on giant wooden planks and thought – that looks such fun.
Doyle tried it, loved the sensation, and after testing the long skis and longer ski pole on a 20km spin round the Furka pass he returned to Davos enthused - and swiftly hand wrote features for London magazines and newspapers and skiing for fun was born.
News of Doyle’s discovery spread slowly at first, then rapidly as more and more health-seeking UK tourists arrived in resorts such as St Moritz, Davos, Zermatt, Villars and other areas linked by rail.
Then the French, Italians, Germans and Austrians started ski schools and employed guides to give the village carpenters and shepherds winter work making skis and leading guests on fun ski trips.
All totally positive, particularly as it stopped sons and daughters leaving home villages and swopping farm and wooden mills careers for ski industry jobs. This sparked the world’s first ski boom and a gold rush type race began as resortsthe world over opened up ski areas.
Turn of the last century saw the Scots open our first proper resort at Glenshee, near Perth. It remains the UK’s largest of our four ski areas.
Britain in those far off days, was leader of the world; and it was us who led the winter sports rush when Lincolnshire travel agent Sir Arnold Lunn became the first winter travel agent when he monetised skiing and other open air pastimes. The Ski Club of Great Britain launched in 1903 and is still going strong.
It is astonishing that although skiing was a means of transport for 7,000 thousand years – for work, hunting, food foraging, slave raids and even warfare – it was reinvented by Britian as a leisure pursuit only fairly recently – and nowadays it is a major worldwide industry encompassing car, bus, train and plane travel, with manufacturers churning out ski wear, ski gear, cable cars, chairlifts and gondolas; many nowadays with draught-proof covers and heated chairlift seats and even sweet music.
Skiing and winter sports are today enjoyed from California to Japan, Norway down past the majestic Alps to Africa’s Atlas Mountains. You can even ski in Hawaii and in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa and don cross-country skis or downhill gear and ski from the sea to the North and South poles.
Good Ski Guide’s History of UK Skiing will run online weekly throughout the season and major on our last 50 years. So keep logging on. It’s elementary! My dear reader