Organized skiing in Switzerland can be dated as of 1893. Before, skiers are recorded in Saas-Fee (Pastor Johan Joseph Imseng – 1849), St. Moritz (1859), Glarus (Konrad Wild – 1868), Davos (Carl Spengler – 1873), St. Bernard hospice (1873), Airolo (Giocondo Dotta – 1879, who learned to ski in the U.S while searching gold, fabricated a ski in order to supervise his cows when the traditional snow shoes were of little use because of extreme snow conditions), Arosa (Otto Herwig – 1883), Les Avants (Louis Dufour – 1890), Adelboden (Peter Oester – 1890), Meiringen (Knocker – 1890).

Interestingly, ski development did not start in St. Moritz or in another well-known mountain resort but in Glarus (a small town located halfway between St. Moritz and Zürich). 1893 was the year: born were a Ski Club, a ski factory, skis put at disposal to postmen in Davos as well as to militaries at the Gotthard and thirteen ski tours recorded. A key figure was Christof Iselin (1869-1949), from Glarus. At the age of 22, probably inspired by Fridtjof Nansen’s book “The first crossing of Greenland”, he had made his own skis. Not happy with the results, he arranged the following winter for two Norwegians, Olaf Kjelsberg (a relative of the writer) and Ja Krefting, to come with three pairs of Flickfeld & Huitfeldt skis, equipped with cane/leather bindings, to instruct him and some colleagues. The single bamboo sticks were 210 cm long with small steel disc close to the bottom and weighed 1.5 kg.

To demonstrate the ability of skis, Iselin, a Lieutenant, later a Colonel in the army and Jacques Jenny climbed in January of 1893 from Glarus to the Schilt Mountain (5 hours for a height difference of 1820 m). End of the same month, Iselin organized a race from Glarus to Schwyz to prove that skis were faster than snow shoes (at the time used by farmers, alpinists and military). With Kjelsberg, Naef and von Steiger, latter with snow shoes, they went over the Pragel pass (up to 5 hours for the 10 km with a difference in elevation of 600 m). The skiers were slower uphill, faster in flat sections and obviously much faster downhill. Iselin was also the initiator of the first Swiss ski race, the one of the “Ski-Club Glarus” in 1902 from Glarus to Untersack (8.5 km cross-country with 500 m altitude difference; 14 participants), preceding by 3 weeks the “Erstes Grosses Skirennen” in 1903 at the Gurten close to Bern (10 km cross-country, 1.4 km downhill with altitude difference of 200 m as well as jumping). He was also originator of the first jumping competition of the Swiss Ski Federation in 1904 (with already 15 clubs and 700 members) as well as the first Swiss Championship in 1905 (by the way attended by 10,000 onlookers) which Iselin won. Latter also developed the “Iselin-Bernina” snow shovel which of duralumin weighted only 350 g; the shovel was used worldwide and some models could even be coupled to a ski stick or an ice axe.

© 2017 by Pierre Schneider

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