It seems odd to think of a time when people didn't ski in
Switzerland. However when Conan Doyle arrived in Switzerland
in 1893 with his first wife, Louise, that was the situation.
Conan Doyle and his wife
moved to Davos Switzerland for his wife's health. Earlier
that year Louise was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was
only given a few months to live. However Conan Doyle had
heard that the climate of Switzerland was beneficial for
tuberculosis patients. While it didn't cure the disease it
helped Louise enormously. Instead of dying within a few
months she lived until 1906.
Conan Doyle was always involved in sports. While at
school he'd participated in many sports including cricket, hockey,
swimming and boxing. So it was natural that he would
look for similar recreation in Switzerland. Conan Doyle had
seen skiing a few years earlier in Norway. He noted that the
topography and climate of Switzerland was perfect for the sport.
He sent away to Norway for some skis.
While he had seen skiing done in Norway he hadn't done much of
it himself. Once his skis arrived in Davos he set about teaching
himself the sport. He would later say, "On any man suffering
from too much dignity, a course of skis would have a fine moral
He was also able to find some local
skiers, the Branger brothers. The brothers had been
practicing skiing for about a year before Conan Doyle's arrival.
However skiing seemed so odd to the locals that the brothers had
actually taken to practicing after dark to avoid being mocked and
teased by local townsfolk.
Once Conan Doyle mastered the basics he and the Branger brothers
decided that they wanted to put skiing to the test. First
they scaled the Jacobshorn, a 7,700-foot mountain. Conan
Doyle was able to keep up with the more experienced skiers, but it
was a challenging climb for him. He stated, "Whenever you
think yourself absolutely secure it is all over with you."
Next the three men took a trip to
Arosa, a nearby town that in the winter could only be reached by a
long railroad trip. The Brangers had made this journey
before and knew it to be a treacherous one. It involved
crossing a pass of almost nine thousand feet in elevation and
traversing some dangerous terrain. However the trip was not
without enjoyment. Conan Doyle wrote about the descent into
Arosa for The Strand. "But now we had a pleasure
which boots can never give. For a third of a mile we shot
along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley
without a motion of our feet. In that great untrodden waste,
with snow-fields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of
life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to
whizz along in this easy fashion."
Conan Doyle predicted, "the time will come when hundreds of
Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season." Due
in part to his popularization of the sport, Conan Doyle was right.