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How skiing became popular in Switzerland

by Rizki Satya Utami

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and His Wife

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and His Wife

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and His Wife Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a party of his friends on a winter holiday Skiing in Switzerland (nowadays)

Switzerland is a famous place for skiing. Not only is it home to some of the greatest peaks in the Alps, it also boasts some of the world’s finest ski resorts. It seems odd to think of a time when people didn't ski in Switzerland.  However when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Switzerland in 1893 with his first wife, Louise, that was the situation. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the creator of the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle and his wife (Louise) 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 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 in Norway, he hadn't done much of it himself.  Once his skis arrived in Davos, he set about teaching himself the sport. 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.

The contortions of an eccentric English author on eight-foot-long skis, however, was viewed with more amusement and eventually admiration, and following his example, the Swiss took up the sport.

The English also started going to Switzerland for skiing after Conan Doyle wrote an article about it in Strand Magazine in 1894. "The time will come," he predicted, with uncanny accuracy, "when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the skiing season."

Conan Doyle wasn’t wrong. He planned many trips for his friends, and helped Norwegian manufacturers to market their skis. But even he couldn’t predict what a huge impact his first expeditions would have on Davos.

These days, the small Alpine village has become an international hotspot — not just for the schmoozers and policy wonks of finance and politics who were there last week, but also for hundreds of thousands of skiers. And they owe it all to a Scottish doctor and writer, whose greatest pride came not from creating the world’s best-known detective, but from being considered a true ‘sportsman.’

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