Today, Davos is renowned as one of the key centers of the world's economic activity. It hosts the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF), with the 54th annual gathering taking place from January 15 to 19, 2024, where Ukraine is participating. Among other topics, the Forum discusses security issues related to Russia's war against Ukraine.
However, Davos is not only an economic hub but also one of Switzerland's most famous ski resorts and the highest-altitude city in Europe, situated at 1560 meters above sea level. This unique location, which attracted the famous writer Conan Doyle in his time, along with breathtaking landscapes and perfect terrain for skiing, motivated him – a man who loved sports and thrilling experiences – to master skiing and introduce the world to the undiscovered possibilities of the Confederation.
The Path to the Mountains
Conan Doyle and his wife Louise moved to Switzerland in 1893 when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The doctor's prognosis was grim, giving her only a few months to live.
However, Conan Doyle learned that Switzerland's climate benefited people with such a condition. It is known that in 1882, the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson sought relief from his ailments in Davos. Therefore, it was a natural decision for the couple to settle in this city. As it turned out later, they made the right choice. Louise's condition improved, and although she could not fully recover, she gained six more years of life alongside her beloved husband.
Skiing as a Revelation
It is hard to believe now, but during Conan Doyle's time, winter sports, especially skiing, were not popular in Switzerland. The fresh perspective of a talented individual and his undeniable energy finally set in motion a process that changed the Swiss perception of their country's skiing potential. The world, in turn, learned how exhilarating a winter vacation in the Swiss Alps could be. Therefore, to some extent, Conan Doyle can be considered the father of Switzerland's ski industry. His "parenthood" may not be as obvious as that of Sherlock Holmes, but it is no less significant.
So, what prompted the writer to become passionate about skiing?
Throughout his life, Conan Doyle was an active man, engaging in various sports from his school years. He had many interests in cricket, hockey, swimming, football, boxing, auto racing, and billiards.
Mr. Doyle even played in 10 matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club, one of the most famous in the world. It's worth noting that he also "taught" his character, Sherlock Holmes, how to box, contributing to the popularity of that sport as well.
The new country and experiences inspired Conan to explore new sports. At that time, he had some limited experience skiing in Norway. However, he quickly realized that the Swiss climate and terrain were ideal for such activities.
Conan ordered skis from Norway and began training vigorously once they arrived. It was during this time that he coined a phrase that would become an aphorism for all skiers: "Skiing is a wonderful moral exercise for the over-proud human being." He humorously described his initial impressions of the long wooden boards attached to his boots, saying, "You put them on and return with a smile to see if your friends are looking at you." However, he went on to describe the exhilaration and occasional tumbles that came with skiing, which left his friends thoroughly entertained.
It's worth mentioning that Mr. Doyle managed to find local skiers, the Brangeri brothers, who had been skiing for about a year. Interestingly, these Swiss boys trained only after dark to avoid mockery from the residents. However, Conan Doyle's enthusiasm motivated them to continue. Once the writer gained some confidence in skis, all three of them ventured to test their skills on the slopes of Jakobshorn Mountain, which stands at 2347 meters in height.
Conan Doyle admitted that it was a challenging ascent for him, saying, "Every time you think you are quite safe, you aren't." Nevertheless, they persevered and even went on to tackle a difficult journey to Arosa, a neighboring town that could only be reached by train in winter. Mr. Doyle and the Brangeri brothers decided to conquer it on skis, overcoming a nearly nine-thousand-foot pass along the way, and enduring several waist-deep snowfalls. Despite the hardships, they succeeded in this endeavor.
Conan Doyle wrote about this extraordinary experience for The Strand magazine, saying, “But now we had a pleasure which boots can never give. For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley without a motion of our feet. In that great untrodden waste, with snow-fields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in this easy fashion.”
In Arosa, the famous writer was welcomed by the locals, and one of the Brangeri brothers registered Conan as a sportsman, much to his delight. It is said that even today, not many dare to follow in Conan Doyle's footsteps.
Afterward, Conan Doyle fell in love with the sport of skiing and Switzerland, predicting, "A time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the ski season." He was partially right, as not only Englishmen but people from many other countries now visit Switzerland's renowned ski resorts, thanks in part to Conan Doyle's recognition of the country's exceptional skiing potential. A talented person excels in everything.
In Davos, there is a bronze plaque dedicated to the writer. It reads: "In honor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930. English author - creator of Sherlock Holmes - and sportsman, who on March 23, 1894, crossed the Maienfelder Furka from Davos to Arosa on skis, thereby bringing this new sport and the attractions of the Swiss Alps in winter to the world. The perfect pattern of a gentleman.”