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Anno dazumal Part 2 | Ten winters with skis in the mountains

1879 - 1900 the beginning in the Black Forest

by Bettina Larl • 12/23/2016
The second article in the Anno dazumal series was also written by Henry Hoek. In the first part of Ten Winters with Skis in the Mountains from 1910, Hoek tells us more about his first attempts "with the narrow boards that give us such a healthy feeling of happiness" in the Black Forest and why they were "anything but encouraging and enjoyable".

Ten winters with skis in the mountains

by Henry Hoek

You bring with you the images of happy days, And some dear shadows rise.

Skiing and alpinism have been juxtaposed as neatly separate concepts, just as man has a preference for the sense of power of division. But as soon as one wants to write about skiing "in itself", about skiing detached from all relation, one encounters a peculiar difficulty: this detachment is almost impossible. And the relationship between alpinism and skiing, between skiing and the mountains, proves to be the most difficult to resolve. The fruit of this relationship is the subject of the following essay, which deals with skiing in the mountains. It is therefore only natural that the introduction should briefly mention this relationship itself, which has been judged so differently depending on the observer's point of view. The reader may ask to be informed of the author's point of view.

Not as if there were not already many such discussions! The complaint has often been made, for example: Skiing has detracted from the execution of really good winter alpine tours. And it has not fulfilled the hope that this loss of quality would be compensated for by a sharp increase in less difficult alpine tours. These complaints are partly unjustified, partly based on a lack of knowledge of skiing and the winter high mountains. The expected strong increase in large alpine tours will and must always fail to materialize; summer figures will never be reached here, not even close. The reason for this is by no means, as one often hears, the "purely sporting" pursuit of skiing, what is meant by the words "running, jumping and swinging". The fact that this is not the case, that the vast majority of skiers make little of this activity and gear, is proven by the huge increase in sub-alpine trips alone. The fact is that many mountaineers who take up skiing find plenty of physical exertion, danger, mental exertion and sporting activity on these sub-alpine doors, which they are used to achieving on summer high-altitude tours of medium "quality"; real high-altitude ski tours can only be enjoyed by a small minority - and only on a small selection of days.

And whether the quality of winter high-altitude tours has really declined would also have to be investigated first. What is certain, however, is that the Finsteraarhorn, Jungfrau, Monte Rosa, Strahlhorn, Mont Blanc, etc. have never been climbed so often in winter as when skis were used, and especially never by such small, often unguided sections. These are certainly quite respectable high-altitude tours, for whose sake it can be forgiven that some real climbs were not carried out. But the sulky representatives of pure alpinism would otherwise have reason not to be too angry that so many of their number have fallen for the long poles.
I'll leave aside the fact that skis have actually become a technical aid, similar to crampons and climbing shoes. Something else should be explained here. It is quite fair to say that skiing is essentially mountaineering, is mountaineering as soon as you leave the mass training ground, is mountaineering insofar as problems are constantly being posed that need to be solved, questions constantly being raised that need to be answered. Of course, it very much depends on what you mean by "mountaineering". But if you include climbing the sandstone towers of Saxon Switzerland, it is hard to see why a hike over the Krkonoše ridge in a snowstorm should not be included, or why a descent down a difficult, dangerous, torn Black Forest slope should not be included.


In both cases, the essence is the requirement of a certain learned technical skill, combined with a certain danger; but it must be a skill that is useful, if not necessary, when carrying out high-altitude tours. So for the time being, let's just accept the sentence: "Skiing is mountaineering".

It is also true because all sporting skiing will always take place in the mountains. The ski inevitably leads its owner, who does not use it for professional purposes, into the mountains, even if initially only into the forest, into the low mountain range. It leads into a wintry mountain range, which often has an alpine guise, and which - as lamentable accidents prove - often also offers alpine difficulty and danger. For some, skiing is indeed a school of alpinism, a school that does not provide complete training, but which can teach many desirable skills: Endurance, presence of mind, frugality, a sense of responsibility and observation of nature.

In fact, it is no coincidence that many a mountaineer can be found among the ranks of skiers. It shows that both sports are closely related, require the same mental, physical and emotional qualities and offer something very similar in terms of enjoyment and danger, exertion and sporting stimulus.

Finally, skiing in the Alps has only emphasized once again that rock and ice work alone do not fill the concept of mountaineering; on the other hand, new, simpler, more natural and, if you will, also more flawless goals have been given - at least for a while; finally, less noticed and less known beauties of the mountains have also been made accessible to a large circle.

It is impossible to undo or forget the deeds of our Alpine pioneers, just as it is impossible to make the ropes and nail marks on the Matterhom disappear. The Alps have certainly lost some of their charm, and in places have even been vulgarized in the most saddening way. Even the most daring ascents from the most inauspicious sides are unable to regain this charm; skiing has succeeded in a certain sense. Skiing has truly revealed unsolved problems, has created fundamentally new possibilities and has led us into a mountainous region with a silence and untouchedness, solitude and grandeur long lost in summer and no longer known.

For some readers of this book, especially if they live on the edge of the Alps or in some southern towns, everything in these lines is almost self-evident. They see it with their own eyes every day that the ski is a mountaineer's tool. But for many others, perhaps even for the majority, the relationship between alpinism and skiing still needs to be explained in detail. Apart from showing what can be achieved with skis in the Alps, it is also a matter of making it clear that in many places the skier still does the first reconnaissance work, that winter alpine tours are to be measured by a completely different yardstick than summer tours, which often take place on prepared paths for well over half of the ascent. And it is about making it clear that the winter tourist is more dependent on the accommodation, the huts, than anyone else, that he deserves the accommodation of the hut owners to an outstanding degree, that they should leave their huts open to him, even at the risk of them being plundered.

The following is about what I have experienced in ten winters in the mountains. Many things have changed in these two lusts. They could be described as the early days of skiing in Central Europe. The actual childhood years were over at the time when this story begins, but a lot has changed since then, both in terms of equipment and skiing technique, and many things have developed in a surprisingly broad way. This is what you will read most between the lines. I will report on many a successful and many a failed expedition; "how not to do it" will sometimes be found in these pages. But I do not regret these journeys either; every day in the mountains is delicious in memory, and if our stupidities prevent those of others, they have nevertheless had their good. I must ask the reader's indulgence for the uneven way in which I have portrayed them. It is the result of the fact that some of these doors have already been published and I am therefore only summarizing their lessons here. And finally, a few words about the inconsistency of praising the sublime silence of winter in the mountains and using this praise to lure in others who break the spell. The roots of this widespread phenomenon are manifold; but three things are always involved: the ethical man's sense of social duty, who also wants others to share in it, the instinct of the sportsman who wants to create an audience for his deeds, and the often unconscious but correct feeling of the philosophizing man that he is placing himself above the cause by communicating it.


My first attempts with the narrow boards that bring us so much healthy happiness were anything but encouraging and enjoyable. In the mid-nineties, one of my friends received a pair of snowshoes for Christmas, clumsy pieces of wood with only a simple willow handle as a binding. One bright January afternoon, we took them out to a quiet meadow outside the good city of Freiburg. We carried them uphill, stood on them and rode downhill for ten or even twenty meters until we fell, and then carried them back up again. Once, however, we managed a longer ride; when we fell soon afterwards, the skis came loose from our feet, they shot downhill, ran into a wall and both tips broke. We then gave up the game as unpleasant and costly.

The next attempt I made was during my Christmas vacation with borrowed skis on the Feldberg (Fig. 1, p. 65). It ended in the first half hour with a broken leg. This time it was even more unpleasant and decidedly more costly.

But as soon as the early winter of 1898 had spread its white blanket over the Black Forest mountains, I was ready for new adventures. This time I wanted to take it seriously and had bought myself some fine equipment. And since practice makes perfect, as we all know, I had chosen a good route and left Posthalde station early in the morning to head for the Feldberghof.


If you were to go there today with my equipment from back then, you would be greeted by rather amused faces. You can still see the individual items from time to time, but unfortunately you can no longer see them piled up on one person.

A wide-brimmed hat tied with a wide band under the chin shaded the eyes, a thick woollen cap underneath covered the face, ears and neck, as far as the woollen sweater did not. A rough loden suit with long hair, a huge collar and countless pockets that could be buttoned up was certainly very picturesque, but not very practical, as it was soon covered in ice shag. On my feet I had something quite wonderful, so-called injection shoes, which were shoes with fur inside and out; oil was injected into the space between the two fur walls. These shoes looked incredibly arctic and were very expensive. The legs were tucked into long, thick, white overboots that were fastened high up on the thigh with buttons. As the bloomers were very bulky at the knee, they hindered my movement quite a bit and rubbed me terribly. I also had a beautiful cane. It had a heavy wooden disc at the bottom, about the purpose of which I was unclear for a long time, and a dangerous point, was about two and a half meters long and so thick that you could have killed a bear with it. The skis were of the best make, of an unpleasant yellow color, with a point you could impale yourself on, and bent up like half a hoop. The backpack, trimmed with the thickest leather, contained God knows what, weighed almost twenty pounds, and dangling from it were two huge, shiny over-sandals in which a small man could have risked a boat trip.

In those days, it was still a stroke of luck if you found tracks on the way from Posthalde to Feldberge. This flower did not bloom for me. After an hour of climbing, there was so much snow that I put on my skis. The next few hours were spent trying to decide whether it was better to go with or without skis. In the end I decided to go with. Unfortunately it started to snow, and as I was unfamiliar with ski wax and had no idea of a way of walking that would avoid or reduce the build-up of studs, the whole thing became a slog. Quite exhausted, soaked to the skin and having lost almost all my baggage, my hat and the giant beater, which shot into the snow and disappeared on the last descent, I reached the Feldberger Hof late in the evening.

The next day brought good snow and bright sunshine, giving me a taste of the joys of skiing. In the course of that winter and the following ones, I climbed almost all the peaks discovered for skiing at that time: Feldberg, 1497 m (Fig. 1, p. 65), Herzogenhorn, 1417 m, SpieĂźhorn, 1350 m, Belchen, 1415 m, StĂĽbenwasen, 1388 m, and Schauinsland, 1286 m. They were delicious, almost always lonely trips over snow that was rarely disturbed by tracks. There was already a fairly large ski community on the Feldberg, but apart from very few exceptions, its members hardly went beyond the Feldberg area itself. And even these few only had a small repertoire of further trips. I can be very brief about the "technique" that was practiced back then: There simply wasn't any. Since the influence of some recognized greats jealously guarded that no trace of the Lilienfeld skiing technique penetrated into the circle of the pure, skiing remained a courageous and wild, go-it-alone activity, avoiding really difficult terrain; it remained a frugal wait until salvation came to us from the north in the form of personally skied examples; because we could do little with the instructions that Nansen gave in his Greenland book, and even their processing by German authors did not make them any more useful.

This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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