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Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History

Andrew Denning
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Skiing into Modernity
    Book Description:

    Skiing into Modernityis the story of how skiing moved from Europe's Scandinavian periphery to the mountains of central Europe, where it came to define the modern Alps and set the standard for skiing across the world.Denning offers a fresh, sophisticated, and engaging cultural and environmental history of skiing that alters our understanding of the sport and reveals how leisure practices evolve in unison with our changing relationship to nature. Denning probes the modernist self-definition of Alpine skiers and the sport's historical appeal for individuals who sought to escape city strictures while achieving mastery of mountain environments through technology and speed-two central features distinguishing early twentieth-century cultures.Skiing into Modernitysurpasses existing literature on the history of skiing to explore intersections between work, tourism, leisure, development, environmental destruction, urbanism, and more.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95989-7
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    To reach the idyllic Swiss Alpine village of Zermatt, the train departs the town of Visp at the base of the Mattertal and traces the path of the Matter Vispa river valley upward. As the train climbs three thousand feet to Zermatt, the Alpine foothills give way to taller and more dramatic summits. At the station in Zermatt, the viewer is greeted with a panorama of some of Switzerland’s tallest and most celebratedViertausender(mountains over four thousand meters, or 13,123 feet, in elevation). The pyramid form of the Weisshorn (14,783 feet) guards the northern entrance to the valley; Switzerland’s...


    • ONE An Uphill Climb
      (pp. 21-36)

      In late 1894, a Scottish doctor and novelist took to the pages of the famed British literary digestThe Strandto relate his experiences in the Alps with an obscure means of locomotion: the ski. The author balanced expressions of fascination and bemusement at an activity that proved both bizarre and captivating. The doctor’s account of his adventures on “ski” (the word appeared in quotation marks throughout the article because the Norwegian term had not yet been naturalized into English) recalls the thick description of contemporary ethnographers who studied isolated peoples in the age of imperialism. Indeed, the doctor’s use...

    • TWO A Civilizing Force
      (pp. 37-57)

      Fridtjof Nansen’s upbringing was largely unremarkable. Born near Christiania in 1861, Nansen took up skiing at age four, and his childhood was infused with the same sporting-nationalistSkiidrettthat animated the Norwegian engineering students responsible for introducing skiing to Central Europe in the last decades of the nineteenth century. But Nansen promoted skiing in a way that hundreds of Norwegian students could not. While studying zoology at the University of Christiania in 1882, Nansen’s professor invited him to observe and catalogue animal life on a five-month voyage of discovery in the Arctic, during which Nansen shot some five hundred seals...

    • THREE A Family Feud
      (pp. 58-72)

      At the turn of the century, two extended families, the Salzöhrl clan and the Kratzbürschtl family, dominated the social and political life of a small Bavarian village. Although the Salzöhrls were Catholic and the Kratzbürschtls were devout Protestants, their friendship had not been affected by centuries of often brutal sectarianism in the German lands. Their spirit of camaraderie appeared unbreakable until a minor disagreement sparked a bitter feud. At the end of the nineteenth century, both took to the novel sport of skiing with alacrity, and one year they planned a friendly race. When the family heads proved unable to...


    • FOUR Joy in Movement
      (pp. 75-89)

      From its first appearance in the Alps, scattered skiers described their sport of choice not merely as a means of locomotion or a pleasing leisure activity but as an art form. But how did artists interpret it? The Austrian artist Alfons Walde’s 1931 paintingAufstieg der Skifahrer(The Climb) presents the viewer with a complicated vision of the sport’s meaning in the decades before World War II (figure 8). In the foreground, skiers reach the crest of a hill, with the majestic, snow-capped peaks of Austria’s Tirolean Alps in the background. Their faces obscured by shadows, they move through a...

    • FIVE Ecstasy in Speed
      (pp. 90-109)

      Italy has been a destination attractive to tourists since the Grand Tours that began in the late seventeenth century. But how was Italy, a latecomer to Alpine skiing and to serving Alpine tourists more generally, to stimulate Alpine tourism after World War I, when well-established competitors in Switzerland, France, and Austria already dominated the business? Most of Italy’s tourist business was based on its historical treasures, which afforded little benefit to remote Alpine regions. After Benito Mussolini rose to power in 1922, he engaged in a concerted program to develop Alpine tourism to improve the physical and moral health of...

    • SIX Modernity in Sport
      (pp. 110-128)

      On the morning of January 30, 1924, thirty-three racers representing eleven different countries assembled at the Olympic Stadium in Chamonix, in the shadow of Mont Blanc, to take part in the first-ever Olympic ski race. Surrounded by a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Olympic stadium, the racers took to the course at one-minute intervals beginning at 8:37 a.m. The 50-kilometer (31.1-mile) course began in the Olympic Stadium in central Chamonix and traced a circuit through small villages such as Argentière and Les Praz before returning to the stadium. The racers climbed nearly 2,700 feet to the highest point of...


    • SEVEN Consuming Alpine Skiing
      (pp. 131-152)

      The camera alights on a futuristic compound perched precariously atop the Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps. Inside, James Bond has been busy investigating a plot by the devious villain Blofeld to brainwash a group of beautiful women to sterilize the world’s food supply. After uncovering the conspiracy, Bond, played by the British model George Lazenby in his only turn as the iconic secret agent, dons a form-fitting, powder-blue ski suit, slips on a hat and goggles, and steps into skis before slipping out the back door. As Bond skis away from the compound, Blofeld’s henchmen catch sight of him and...

    • EIGHT The Pursuit of White Gold
      (pp. 153-170)

      In early January 1964, the Austrian federal minister Heinrich Drimmel faced a seemingly impossible challenge. In his secondary appointment as president of the Austrian Olympic Committee, Drimmel was responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. For Austria, which had endeavored since the end of World War II to rebuild its economy while steering a neutral path between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Winter Games were a prestige project meant to showcase a modern, cosmopolitan, affluent nation to the world. Unfortunately for Drimmel, years of organizational meetings and infrastructure development and...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 171-182)

    The material changes in the sport of skiing and the Alpine landscape during the twentieth century are indisputable. We return now to the question of meaning. Was Alpine skiing a beneficent force that promoted individual health, cultivated social intercourse, and modernized the Alpine economy, as Andrzej Ziemilski argued in 1959? Or, as Arnold Lunn averred in 1941, had it come to cater to the philistine urges of “mass man” by using technology to render the mountains more accessible, a process that stripped them of their natural grandeur and rendered them artificial? The sport had always inspired panegyrics and polemics in...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 183-214)
    (pp. 215-230)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 231-236)