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A WINTER PLAYGROUND
"WINTER SPORTS" FOR WINTER TOURISTS
A FORTNIGHT AT ST. MORITZ
ON ALPINE SKATING RINKS
SWISS WINTER HOTELS
SWITZERLAND A CENTRE FOR WINTER SPORTS
WINTER AMUSEMENTS ELSEWHERE
PIONEER WINTER RESORTS
WINTER SEASON IN THE SWISS ALPS
CAUX FAVORS THE "BOB SLED"
MONTREUX THE TOURISTS' CAPITAL
CENSUS OF WINTER VISITORS
IN THE ENGADINE
WINTER SPORTS FOR THE WOMAN
COST OF FUN AMONG ALPINE SNOWS
MODERN BOB SLEIGH
TOBOGGANING AT ST. MORITZ
CRESTA "BOB SLED" RUN
CLUB DUES AT ST. MORITZ
KLOSTERS' DANGEROUS CURVE
KEEPING UP AN ICE RINK
WINTER SPORTS IN SWITZERLAND
WHY not Switzerland and be done with it, we asked ourselves one glacial January morning when our Paris studio "cloche" had gone out over night and the water pipes had frozen tight and all but burst? The sun does sometimes shine brightly there in winter and the snow is hard under foot, and, we were told, the hotels were most comfortable with calorifères and great wood logs ablaze in the hooded chimneys, and "hot and cold" laid on, as our English cousins have it, referring to the water of their baths. In Paris we had scarcely seen the sun for four weeks – fog, rain, more rain and more fog; and now a freeze with the prospect of a muddy, sticky thaw which would hold on another month.
We had known what it was to freeze in mid-August beside the Rhone Glacier: midwinter couldn't be colder, and those super-heated hotels and the sunshiny climate appealed to us greatly.
At the Paris office of the Swiss Federal Railways an employee gave us a skeleton map, traced our route in blue pencil and made up our ticket in accordance with our vagaries.
We left the Engadine Express the next morning at Bale, leaving the rest of our fellow-voyagers to go on to Davos, Coire and Saint Moritz whilst we dropped down to the shores of Lac Leman (which a former generation called erroneously Lake Geneva) at Montreux, and at midday were taking our coffee on the open-air terrace of a great hotel in a warmth and brilliance that was tropical after Paris' winter gloom. Snow and ice, hard-packed, were all about us, not only on the distant mountain peaks and slopes but in the streets of the town as well, and a hard, glassy surface covered the little lake at Les Avants up back of the town.
"Winter sport" is the new-coined, hyphenated nomenclature for the divertisements of what was formerly accepted as the dull winter months. The significance of the word is known from the Trossachs to Tyrol, from the Alps of Switzerland to the purple Pyrenees of the Basque Provinces and from Norway to Roussilon. The bark toboggan of the red Indian gives place to the Swiss variety, the luge and the bob-sled, and the snow-shoe and the "crosse" to the ski and the curling stone, hockey and bandy. Most of the sports are, as is obvious, importations from other lands.
Skating on artificially made rinks may be obtained in almost all parts, and frequently on natural lakes which are kept in the best of condition. Notably this applies to that chain of lakes between Saint Moritz and the Maloja Pass; those of Silvaplana and the Silsersee, though the latter are of such great depth that they freeze over only late in the season.
From Paris to Saint Moritz for a fortnight, including everything needful for one's comfort and enjoyment, transportation (second class), food, lodging and a participation in such sports as strike one's fancy, ought not to exceed three hundred francs (sixty dollars), and for a month not more than five hundred francs (one hundred dollars). It may look a round figure to pay but the expense of getting there and back is included, for Switzerland is not exactly at our front door, even if we do live in Paris, and at least one hundred and twenty-five francs of this expense is for railway fares.
At Adelboden, a newly-opened resort, you may get an inclusive rate that will cover a ticket out and back from London or Paris and a stay of a certain length with nothing to pay once you have regulated the price of the account presented when you buy your ticket. You lose a good deal of your freedom of action, some personal pride and, maybe, seriously inconvenience yourself by such a procedure, but you may expect to gain twenty per cent on the total cost, which is something in these days of high prices – and they are still soaring upward even in Switzerland.
A curious phase of the cost of hotel living in Switzerland is that in many places it is more costly in winter than in summer. With everything snowed up and the conditions of transport and distribution more difficult, this readily explains itself with respect to food and drink. What is not so readily explained is that in Switzerland, summer and winter alike, the casual traveller often pays as much for a single meal as does a pensionnaire for his food and lodging for the round of the clock. That Switzerland is a nation of hotel keepers, and successful ones at that, is the only possible explanation.
Another considerable item of expense in the running of a Swiss hotel in winter is that of heating and lighting, for nowhere else among the resorts of Europe is so much attention paid to the heating of hotel public rooms and private apartments as in this land of mountains. One is not cold indoors here in the heart of the Alps in winter, and the still, out-of-door cold (even should the bise be howling) is not to be feared with proper clothing protection, for there is absolutely no dampness. On account of the high winds which frequently blow down off the Maloja Pass there are fewer consumptives at Saint Moritz, which is farther away, than at Davos, and for that reason is to be preferred as a headquarters in the Engadine.
Bad weather in Switzerland in winter usually means snowy weather and thus it continues until the season of spring rains sets in. Snow seldom brings a temperature below freezing; and when this – either the clear, dry, still cold, or the dry, bracing wind and hillocks of drifting snow – is found in conjunction with bright sunshine, the combination is very attractive indeed.
The English have sought to introduce into Switzerland as winter sports football and hockey. For the latter there is some excuse, for played on the ice it becomes "bandy," but for the former it is as ridiculous as if it were cricket or baseball. The Scotch game of curling is also extensively played, and for this, too, there is some reason for being since it is played upon ice. Skating is of two varieties in Switzerland – the English and the Continental styles. They differ greatly and seldom are the two practised in any one resort. The Dutchmen are the best European skaters, but not many come to Switzerland – they are too frugal a race to spend their money excursioning. By contrast it is the English figure skater who is most often seen on the newly flooded rinks, even before Christmas, when the snow sports of winter, the chief of which is "bob-sleighing," begins in the Swiss mountains.
Switzerland is the head centre of les sports d'hiver, more than fifty stations being devoted to them. The game is an international one, however, so far as participation therein is concerned, and even France, in the Vosges, the Alps of Dauphiny and Savoy and in the Pyrenean provinces, has succumbed and has seriously taken up with the new idea as a means of attracting winter tourists to places that hitherto were bereft from November to May. The mountain regions of central Europe are no longer merely summer playgrounds. In Styria, Tyrol and elsewhere in Austria, winter sport has taken on immensely well also. At Chamonix and certain spots in the Vosges an initiative is to be remarked, though in general the French Alpine resort authorities say: "Give us the clientèle and we will establish winter hotels, rinks and toboggan runs." The winter tourist is apt to reason otherwise and reply, "Give us the conveniences and the divertissements which we demand and we will come." And so it is that Switzerland has won out.
The former Alpine sport of Whymper's and Sir Martin Conway's day is giving way to bob-sleighing, lugeing and skiing, as was destiny when the flanks of the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc came to be penetrated by cog-wheel railways. Only the eidelweiss is left of the Switzerland of old, that sacred, star-shaped flower which is a paternoster in the religion of the montagnard of Switzerland and Austria. The diligence has not wholly disappeared, but it is only in the Canton of Grisons and on the Furka, Grimsel and Oberlap Passes that the drivers are safe from surprise by some mad, rushing automobilist.
As far back as 1882 the proprietor of the Kulm Hotel at Saint Moritz decided to leave his latch string out all winter. Up to that time Switzerland's season had been summer; since that time it has run from the rise of the first to the decline of the year's last moon and the prosperity of the Swiss hotel keeper has progressed in the same ratio, Davos, Saint Moritz and Grindelwald being the pioneer winter resorts.
The winter season is not long, for except in the highest stations, it scarcely begins before January and is over by March. The majority of stations at a greater elevation than three thousand feet have the shortest season and begin to empty towards the end of January, their height of attraction being around Christmas time, though the ideal month for ski-running is undoubtedly February. By ski-running is meant long excursions on skis, a climb upwards some two thousand feet or more above the hotel-peopled slopes and valleys, in company with a Swiss guide. There one rests in some Alpine club hut, lunches and swoops down again like a bird on swift-gliding skis over the virgin snow and under a sun as vivid as if one were on the shores of the Mediterranean instead of those of Lac Leman. This really makes skiing worth while, though most who affect the sport merely hop about before the terraces of the hotels and hurry back for a "hot scotch" or tea at frequent intervals.
To-day the season at Chateau d'Oex, at Les Avants above Montreux, at Davos and Saint Moritz in Grisons, at Disentis, at Grindelwald, at Diablerets, Champéry, Montana, Kanderstag, Adelboden and Engelberg is quite as much a winter season as a summer one. The hotels are most nearly full in winter and it is then that one pays the highest prices for accommodations. It is open house now all the year round in most of the high Alpine valleys of hotel-keeping, tourist Switzerland. The air is pure, clear and cold, the sun hot in the valleys for a brief moment at midday from before Christmas until the end of February, and one is as comfortable without wraps here as in a latitude many hundreds of miles further south. At sundown, which may be at two or three o'clock in the afternoon if a high mountain intervenes to the southwest, all is glacial, and what little thaw there may have been on the skating ponds, the skiing ground and the toboggan runs congeals again for the morrow's sport. Sometimes, even, it is a moonlight game, this winter sport of Switzerland, and sometimes a ten or twenty mile sleigh-ride by night is a variation. But usually it is a case of tea and dinner and bridge and a hot grog and then to bed in the great white palaces of the Alpine slopes overlooking some silent, glassy valley or the cold blue-grey of Leman's Lake.
The Engadine, the Oberland and the High Valley of the Rhone are a very cinematograph of life and movement in winter. Here are new worlds to conquer for the conventional traveller who has previously done Switzerland only in summer or Algeria in winter. Things should be reversed, the latter in May or September and the former in January will give one a new outlook on things.
At Caux, which the former tourist ignored, are now great hotels with bob-sleigh garages, which are as much a necessary adjunct to this modern twentieth century life as an automobile garage in a main road town. A three kilometre run, commencing at the
Cret d'y Bau high up in the mountains, finishes at the very door of the Palace Hotel. How desirable an attraction the run and its attendant line of trucks to take the coasters up hill again was thought to be by the hotel administration is best realised when it is stated that its upkeep costs annually fifty thousand francs. Besides this there is a run for luges, or single sleds, and two ice rinks. Caux is a winter rival of Luna Park and considerably more exclusive and luxurious.
On Mont Pelerin, above Vevey, a similar enterprise, with the addition of a skiing ground, has come into being. Meanwhile trade follows the flag and the Swiss are so happy that they have got an all-the-year-round occupation that they are no longer emigrating.
Some one once wrote an anthology of prose and verse describing the delights of Switzerland under all its varied aspects and at all seasons. It ran from Gesner to Longfellow, Rosseau to the Williamsons-who wrote the "Lightning Conductor." There was Miss Braddon and John Ruskin and others. It was a good anthology as anthologies go, but whilst spring, summer, autumn and winter, sky and lake and mountain were all pictured, practically nothing was said of winter sport.
Chateaubriand was about the only one among these contributors who did not laud the praises of the mountains. He protested that mountains fatigued one to the point where he could not philosophise going up, and that one's natural fear when coming down so monopolised attention that nothing else mattered.
This is not the point of view of the lover of winter sports of the mountains as they have been developed in the Switzerland of to-day. Just what it means to Switzerland to have all four seasons full ones is best realised by the contemplation of a few statistics. Montreux, for instance, is a town of hotels of all ranks and conditions and full at all seasons. Visitors have increased fifty per cent in five years, partly because of the quality and quantity of the hotel accommodation offered, partly because of its accessibility and proximity to the multifarious, all-round amusements of that part of Switzerland of which it is the stranger's capital.
Switzerland's tourists are, like its speech, principally German. Out of each thousand of its hotel dwellers three hundred and ten are Teutons, two hundred and twenty-two are Swiss themselves, one hundred and thirty-five English, and one hundred and ten Americans. The list tails off with twenty-four Italians and eighteen Austrians, with the French, Russians, Hollanders and Belgians in between. In the winter season Americans and English seem to predominate, and the former are quite as much in evidence as the latter, if not actually in numbers, at least in appearance. That is a question of national temperament one may rightly suppose; the American is usually in evidence wherever he may be. The Germans come to Montreux mostly in the spring. To nineteen thousand Germans in 1909 there were six thousand two hundred and twenty-seven Americans. The French come chiefly in August, as do the cheap trippers from London, bound to or from the Oberland or the Engadine. During the same year forty thousand strangers stayed at, or passed through, Montreux, those who actually stopped there for any length of time being those who came for the winter sports.
It is not dull travelling in Switzerland in winter, not even by contrast with what one may have known of it on some summer journey. A deep blanket of snow is everywhere, and the Jungfrau and the Wengernalp, Mont Cervin at Zermatt and old Mont Blanc itself (which is not in Switzerland but in France), are a few shades whiter with the snow deeper on their lower slopes; that is all.
By the wonderful Albula railway one reaches Saint Moritz in winter with the sensation of a locomotive and its following train skating on ice. Before the line was opened (from Thusis to Saint Moritz) it was a matter of two or three days getting into the Engadine over the Julier Pass. The former method, in a great sleigh with from three to six horses, was picturesque and amusing but inconvenient. It was so in Robert Louis Stevenson's day, when he and the boy Lloyd printed those famous little "Davos Booklets" now worth their weight in gold. To-day by a train-de-luxe one travels more quickly, more comfortably, and takes his, or her, winter sport at the journey's end rather than in the joy and adventure of getting there.
The coming of the railway to the Engadine has meant the coming of the crowds, and even the aspect of the visitors has changed. To-day they are more transitory than formerly. If on a former winter's day at Saint Moritz or Davos you met a party group that you saw there a month before, you thought nothing of it; to-day, but thirty-six hours later, the same party may be met at Montreux, at Aigle, at Sierra or Montana. Winter sport in Switzerland is a sort of movable sport. You bundle up your skis as you did your umbrella and your alpenstock on a summer tour, and after the Engadine has palled, make your way to Grindelwald, and luge, and ski and skate amid a new environment until the spirit warns you to move on again.
Swiss winter sports are as much for women as for men, for though they are vigorous and bespeak agility on the part of the players, as well as a love of the open, they are in comport with the new order of things which has come to recognise the virtues of exercise and fresh air. Such as go to Switzerland in winter enjoy great advantages over those who put in their time at the merely fashionable resorts of the Riviera or the tepid, tea-drinking winter colonies of Cairo and Biskra. Routine gives place to freedom of movement and unconventionality, inanition to exercise, and frills and furbelows to sensible and practical health-giving, health-sustaining costumes.
An outfit for Switzerland in winter is easily and cheaply conceived, and if of the quality that it ought to be it will possess a durability that will assure it long service.
The winter days are short in Switzerland and the evenings long, so if one wants to mix social flippancies with lusty exercise, she may still have the opportunity to don frocks of fashion at the musical evenings, dances and bridge parties of the great steam-heated, electric-lighted, palatial hotels which are now found in close proximity to the half a hundred winter-sports stations of the country.
One may not do the round of all these winter resorts in ten days, but the point is that whereas winter visitors to Switzerland usually stayed weeks, they now come for a ten-day plunge into the clear, cold, rarefied atmosphere at some of the great resorts whose attractions have been widely advertised, and go back again to Paris, to Dresden or to London, their lungs and hearts full of new vigour and emotions.
Davos, Klosters, Landquart, Coire, Thusis, Cresta and Saint Moritz were but vague, humble place-names a generation ago, but to-day, taking Saint Moritz and its Grand Hotel as an example (it offers four hundred beds to visitors), their fame is somewhat more considerable. At the foot of the Cresta snow run is Celerina, with another newly opened enormous caravansary, on whose open ice rink is held the English Public Schools Skating Championship for the Challenge Cup now held by Malvern College.
Here in the upper Engadine, chiefly on that chain of lakes extending from Samaden to Maloja, at an elevation approximating six thousand feet, skating is at its best. Artificially made rinks are everywhere, too, water being flowed over depressions in the frozen ground and they, as well, for the less venturesome skaters, fill a want.
In the most popular of the Swiss winter resorts one pays on an average of twelve francs, say two dollars and forty cents a day, and the pursuing of the sports themselves is a cheap enough amusement. The cheapest are skiing, skating and tobogganing. For these one pays a small sum, varying from a half a franc for a seance to two or three francs for a day's sport on the specially prepared tracks or rinks. Bob-sleighing costs a good bit more, rising from twenty to fifty francs, four dollars to ten dollars a day, an expense which would naturally be divided among several.
The "bob-sled," as it is known in Switzerland today, was originally imported from the United States in I889; at least it developed from a species of "double-runner" which, by the time it had crossed the ocean and climbed up into the high Alps, had become known as a "pig-sticker." The modern "bob-sleigh" is scientifically constructed and is a thing of four spring runners, much hardware trapping in the form of hand rails, foot rests, steering-gear and the like, and possesses a general businesslike air which would seem to make the conduct of it more a profession than a sport. The name of Mathis of Saint Moritz or Beek of Davos on the dashboard of a "bob," is what Renault or Panhard is on an automobile.
Sleighing in general is even more expensive, particularly with respect to lengthy excursions, but again this is a sort of community affair and ought not to cost the individual more than a dollar a day, say thirty per cent more than the "bob-sleigh."
One of the most popular of these Swiss sleigh excursions is from Samaden, through Saint Moritz and Silvaplana, to Sils and Maloja and their deep water lakes. The lakes, though often freezing to a depth of three solid feet, crackle and detonate like a cannonade as one glides over their surface. "Crackling ice is the safest," is, however, an axiom that holds good in the Engadine.
For a dozen or fifteen miles from Samaden the narrow ribbon of the post road winds up to the table land from whence, a little beyond Maloja, it plunges off into the Lombard plain of Italy. Those to whom the skating is not the prime object of the excursion may climb the height back of the town, see the wonderful, wide-spread panorama for themselves and still get back to the Bernina hostelry at Samaden to sleep.
Taking Saint Moritz as a centre, tobogganing is usually practised in the morning before the sun has melted the ruts of the coast into holes. The "bandy" game is an afternoon amusement. It is only in February that "bob-sleighing" is at its height, and at Saint Moritz it has a special track lying parallel to the famous Cresta toboggan run. "Bobbing," as it is called, is also an afternoon sport and is quite the most social, and perhaps the most dangerous, of all.
A steersman and brakeman are the only really skilled and sporty individuals of a "bob-sled's" crew. The rest, fellows and girls, are sandwiched in between, on the plank of this refined double-runner, and are told simply to sit tight, and if a spill comes to devitalise themselves that they may suffer no broken bones nor run the risk of being killed. They are the ballast of the craft; those at either end the crew. The word "bob" thus applied comes from the swinging backwards and forwards by the crew and the ballast whilst coasting, a movement not unlike that of the crew of a four- or eight-oared shell.
The Cresta "bob-sled" run is supposedly the finest in existence. It was scientifically built to begin with and is kept in the best of condition. An American once steered a "bob" over the entire length of the run, including all its high-banked curves, one thousand four hundred and fifty yards, in sixty-three seconds, and that is not far from fifty miles an hour. Why, it's the next thing to aëroplaning!
The Schatz-Alp "bob-sled" course at Davos is over two miles long, with many sharp curves. A snow course offers the best opportunity for displaying the skill of the steersman of a "bob" and is less fraught with danger in the case of an overturn than an ice run. There is one "spill-over" curve, virtually a great horse-shoe, on the Schatz-Alp run, which would be reckoned a marvel of engineering if it was an adjunct of a dirt-built road. Then there is the "made run," iced practically throughout its length, and banked so high at the corners that it is almost impossible for any self-respecting "bob" to shoot off comet-like into space, though the thing has been known.
At Klosters, on a course nearly two miles in length, is another famous curve known as the "Cabbage Garden," which sees frequent spills and some really dangerous accidents. It was at Klosters a half a century ago – at the instigation of John Addington Symonds, old stagers will tell you – that the Swiss variety of toboggan came into being. For a fact, the toboggan has more or less evolved itself into the "bob-sled," but by the way of the American double-runner.
The Saint Moritz International Skating Club is a formally organised and elaborately constituted institution. Formerly one became a member by the payment of a five-franc fee, became a life member in fact. To-day things are different. It is a much more serious affair. One now pays an annual subscription of ten francs for merely becoming a member of the club for a season, and this only if staying at one of the hotels which is a party to the organisation. If you lodge elsewhere the subscription is doubled to twenty francs. For this one has the use of a private, superbly kept ice rink, so the charge by no manner of reckoning can be called an onerous one.
The keeping up of a Swiss ice rink is a costly and continuous performance. The slightest fall of snow has to be swept, or scraped, from the surface before it freezes into roughness or hummocks, a labour which, curiously enough, is, in many places in the Engadine, performed by sunny-faced condottieri from Italy who at other seasons work at railway building or grape picking in the vineyards of Piedmont.
SOME SWISS WINTER RESORTS AND THEIR ALTITUDES