An Alpine Pass on "Ski"
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
An Alpine Pass on "Ski" is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Strand Magazine in december 1894. The article relates the Conan Doyle expedition of march 1894 in Switzerland, where he travelled from Davos to Arosa passing by Maienfelder Pass (Furka Pass in the article).
Conan Doyle can be seen on 5 photos out of 8.
- in The Strand Magazine (december 1894 [UK]) 8 photos
- in McClure's Magazine (march 1895 [US]) 8 photos (7 from the Strand version)
- in The Atlanta Constitution (16 december 1894 [US]) as Conan Doyle's Adventures on Ski with 4 ill.
- in The Philadelphia Inquirer (16 december 1894 [US]) as Mountain Climbing on Norwegian Ski. Adventures of a Literary Man in a Mountain Pass with 4 ill.
An Alpine Pass on "Ski"
That is when you are beginning. You naturally expect trouble then, and you are not likely to be disappointed. But as you get on a little, the thing becomes more irritating. The ski are the most capricious things upon the earth. One day you cannot go wrong with them; on another with the same weather and the same snow you cannot go right. And it is when you least expect it that things begin to happen. You stand on the crown of a slope, and you adjust your body for a rapid slide; but your ski stick motionless, and over you go on your face. Or you stand upon a plateau which seems to you to be as level as a billiard table, and in an instant, without cause or warning, away them shoot, and you are left behind, staring at the sky. For a person who suffers from too much dignity, a course in Norwegian snowshoes would have a fine moral effect.
Whenever you brace yourself for a fall, it never comes off. Whenever you think yourself absolutely secure, it is all over with you. You come to a hard ice slope at an angle of seventy-five degrees and you zigzag up it, digging the side of your ski into it, and feeling that if a mosquito settles upon you, you are gone. But nothing ever happens and you reach the top in safety. Then you stop upon the level to congratulate your companion, and you have just time to say, ``What a lovely view is this! when you find yourself standing upon two shoulder-blades, with your ski tied tightly around your neck. Or again, you may have had a long outing without any misfortune at all, and as you shuffle back along the road, you stop for an instant to tell a group in the hotel veranda how well you are getting on. Something happens -- and they suddenly find that their congratulations are addressed to the soles of your ski. Then if your mouth is not full of snow, you find yourself muttering the names of a few Swiss villages to relieve your feelings. "Ragatz is a very handy word and may save a scandal.
The fact is it is easier to climb an ordinary peak, or to make a journey over the higher passes, in winter than in summer, if the weather is only set fair. In summer, you have to climb down as well as to climb up, and the one is as tiring as the other. In winter your trouble is halved, as most of your descent is a mere slide. If the snow is tolerably firm, it is much easier to zigzag up it on ski than to clamber over boulders... Our project was to make our way from Davos to Arosa, over the Furka Pass, which is over nine thousand feet high.
The snow being still hard enough upon the slopes to give us a good grip for our feet, we pushed rapidly on, over rolling snow-fields with a general upward tendency. About half- past seven the sun cleared the peaks behind us, and the glare upon the great expanse of virgin snow became very dazzling. We worked our way down a long slope, and then coming to the corresponding hill slope with a northern outlook, we found the snow as soft as powder, and so deep that we could touch no bottom with our poles. Here, then, we took to our snow- shoes, and zigzagged up over the long white haunch of the mountain, pausing at the top for a rest. They are useful things, the ski; for finding that the snow was again hard enough to bear us, we soon converted ours into a very comfortable bench, from which we enjoyed the view of a whole panorama of mountains, the names of which my readers will be relieved to hear I have completely forgotten.
Again we had a half mile or so, skimming along with our poles dragging behind us. It seemed to me that the difficulty of our journey was over, and that we had only to stand on our ski and let them carry us to our destination. But the most awkward place was yet in front. The slope grew steeper and steeper until it fell away into what was little short of being sheer precipice. But still that little, when there is soft snow upon it, is all that is needed to ring out another possibility of these wonderful slips of wood. The brothers Branger agreed that the slope was too difficult to attempt with the "ski" upon our feet. To me it seemed as if a parachute was the only instrument for which we had any use; but I did as I saw my companions do. They undid their ski, lashed the straps together, and turned them into a rather clumsy toboggan. Sitting on these with out heels dug into the snow, and our sticks pressed hard down behind us, we began to move down the precipitous face of the pass. I think that both my comrades came to grief over it. I know that they were as white as Lot's wife at the bottom. But my own troubles were so pressing that I had no time to think of them. I tried to keep the pace within moderate bounds by pressing on the stick, which had the effect of turning the sledge sideways, so that one skidded down the slope. Then I dug my heels hard in, which shot me off backwards, and in an instant my two "ski's", tied together, flew away like an arrow from a bow, whizzed past the two Brangers, and vanished over the next slope, leaving their owner squatting in the deep snow. It might have been an awkward accident in the upper field where the drifts are twenty or thirty feet deep. But the steepness of the place was an advantage now, for the snow could not accumulate to any great extent upon it. I made my way down in my own fashion.
However, save that one of the Brangers sprained his ankle badly in the descent, all went well with us, and we entered Arosa at half-past eleven, having taken exactly seven hours over our journey. The residents of Arosa, who knew we were coming, had calculated that we could not possibly get there before one, and turned out to see us descend the steep pass just about the time when we were finishing a comfortable luncheon at the Seehoff. I would not grudge them any innocent amusement, but still I was just as glad that my own little performance was over before they assembled with their opera- glasses.