There’s nothing really can touch skiing, is there? The way it feels when you first drop off on a long run.
(from Cross Country Snow by Ernest Hemingway)
Several articles written about the Swiss Alps by Hemingway while working as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star in the early 1920s.
After returning to North America after World War I, Hemingway met his first wife, Hadley Richardson. They married in 1921, Hemingway was hired as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star shortly afterwards and the couple then moved to Paris. While there, Hemingway developed a love of the Alps which he reported on in a series of short but evocative articles in the winter of 1922.
In Flivver, Canoe, Pram and Taxi Combined in the Luge, Joy of Everybody in Switzerland (Toronto Daily Star, March 18, 1922), Hemingway describes an idyllic scene of winter time Sunday outing to the mountains. Everybody from old grandmothers and street children to the ‘rabid lugeurs’ of the British colony spent the whole day “sliding gloriously down the long, icy mountain road”.
In another piece, about the thrill of bobsledding rather than the luge, Hemingway’s joy at the winter scene seems a far cry from a man often associated with the heat of Key West, Africa and Cuba:
While you wait for the train, you munch at ham sandwiches that a little boy peddles from a basket to the bobsledders, watch the sun go down over the great sweep of snow-covered country and wonder why people go to Palm Beach or the Riviera in the wintertime. (from Try Bobsledding If You Want Thrills (Toronto Daily Star, March 4, 1922)
And, while describing the eclectic mix of characters who congregate at its hotels, Hemingway describes Switzerland as “a small, steep country, much more up-and-down than than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo-clock style of architecture.” (Queer Mixture of Aristocrats, Profiteers,Wolves and Sheep at the hotels in Switzerland, Toronto Daily Star, March 4, 1922.
A love of the Alps stayed with Hemingway, who returned to them to finish his first novel, The Sun also Rises (published in the UK as Fiesta) in Schruns, Austria rather than Switzerland (possibly owing to the exchange rate? see Tourists Scarce in Swiss Resorts, Toronto Star Weekly, February 22, 1922).
Despite sustaining leg injuries during World War I which could have resulted in amputation, Hemingway also developed a love of skiing, a sport then in its infancy, which found its way into his writing.
In the short story Cross-Country Snow, Hemingway conveys the thrill of dropping down steep slopes in passages like these:
The gale scouring the exposed surface into a wind-board crust, Nick, waxing his skis in the baggage car, pushed his boots into the toe irons and shut the clamp tight. He jumped from the car sideways onto the hard wind-board, made a jump turn and crouching and trailing his sticks slipped in a rush down the slope.
The rush and the suddens swoop as he dropped down a step mountain undulation in the mountain side plucked Nick’s mind out and left him only the wonderful flying, dropping sensation in his body.
Hemingway also evokes the camaraderie and satisfaction of getting out of the cold and stopping at mountain inns for meals:
They stacked the skis against the side of the inn and slapped snow off each other’s trousers, stamped their boots clean, and went in.
Schruns also founds its way into The Snows of Kilimanjaro, while Harry is reminiscing at the start of the story:
In Schrunz, on Christmas Day, the snow was so bright it hurt your eyes when you looked out from the weinstube and saw every one coming home from church.
…the snow as smooth to see as coal frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made a you dropped down like a bird.
I remember the snow on the road to the village squeaking at night when we walked home in the cold with out skis and ski poles on our shoulders, watching the lights and then finally seeing the buildings, and how everyone said ‘Grüss Gott’.
Hemingway’s time in Austria also marked a period of transition, with the completion and publication of The Sun Also Rises, the arrival of the rich in the ski resorts and also the impending breakdown of his first marriage.
In literary terms, at least, the Alps were for Hemingway a gift that kept on giving.
Cross Country Snow and Snows of Kilimanjaro are both published in The First Forty-Nine Stories: