Sir Arnold Lunn wrote the rules for slalom and downhill. Credit: JungfrauStories

When this passage (below) from The Mountains of Youth (1925) by Arnold Lunn was published, “skiing” still had a hyphen and “ski” was both the singular and plural form. Lunn (1888-1974) invented downhill and slalom racing, introducing them when the sport was mostly jumping and nordic racing.

Lunn was knighted in 1952 “. . . for services to British skiing.” He was a major figure in promoting ski sports in the Olympic games. As is obvious in this selection, he was a competitive skier who loved speed and took daring chances.

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Arnold Lunn on his first ascent of the Eiger 1924. Credit: Walter Amstutz

The worst and best moments in ski-ing are often separated only by seconds. You are standing at the top of some fierce slope which you have vowed to take straight. You look at the line and observe with sick disgust that the change of gradient is abrupt at the bottom, and that the slight bump half-way down will probably send you into the air. A kind friend says: “I shouldn’t take that straight,” and your enemy remarks: “Oh, it’s safe enough. Jones took it straight yesterday.”And then suddenly, before you quite realize what has happened you are off. The wind rises into a tempest and sucks the breath out of your body A lonely fir swings past like a telegraph pole seen from an express train Your knees are as wax, and your stomach appears to have been left behind at the top. You fight against the tendency of your ski to run apart—the inevitable sequel to undiluted funk—by locking your knees and turning your ski on to their inside edges. And now comes the supreme crisis—the run-out where the gradient suddenly changes. You throw your weight forward, and mutter “Hold it, hold it.” You clench your teeth, and make strange noises as the shock drives up through your legs. Your ski quiver with the strain . . . and you realize to your intense astonishment that you have not fallen.

The pace relaxes. The hurricane dies away. You are drunk with the wine of speed, and you marvel at the faint heart which so nearly refused the challenge. You glory in the sense of control which you have recaptured over your ski no longer untamed demons hurrying you through space, but the most docile of slaves. You are playing with gravity You are master of the snow. You can make it yield like water or resist like steel. Suddenly you decide to stop. A rapid Telemark, the snow sprays upwards, and the “slabberie snow broth,” to quote an old Elizabethan,”has relented and melted about your heeles.”

A laugh floats upwards, and you much enjoy telling your enemy that his diagnosis was correct, and that he can safely venture to take it straight. And, if he falls, your triumph is complete

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Lunn’s classical education is apparent in his allusion to “an old Elizabethan.” The “slabberie snow broth” quotation, reports the Oxford English Dictionary, comes from the first English translation (1600) of Livy’s Roman History. Shakespeare mentions “snow-broth”—mixed snow and water—once, with reference to the blood in the veins of a villain. (Measure for Measure, I, iv, 57).

 

British athlete Sir Arthur Lunn helped create a sport out of a past time.

2 Comments

  1. The Lunn family practically invented the winter ski vacation. Sir Arnold became the chief proponent of the emerging sport. It was this type of imagery and sense of accomplishment, the comradery of shared struggle that fired the imagination of new recruits. We owe our resort based sport and the competitions we know as World Cup and Olympic skiing to Sir Arnold Lunn

  2. Avatar Rich Spritz says:

    Lunn’s contributions were seminal, but the sport of ‘ski-running’ began circa 1870 in Scandinavia, and became established in Europe long before Lunn ever called it ‘ski-ing’. For those interested in the early history of the skiing, read ‘The Ski-Runner’ (E.C. Richardson, 1909) and ‘Ski-runs in the High Alps’ (R.F. Roget, 1913). Both of these rare books are freely available online courtesy of the Gutenberg Project.

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