Swiss Sports

THERE is a great distinction between the national sports of the Swiss and those of Switzerland. The games which attract so many thousands to the Alps in winter are in no cases peculiar to Switzerland, and are rarely indigenous. Tobogganing and skiing, like mountain-climbing (as a pleasure), have been introduced to Switzerland by visitors. Even skating does not seem to have been much favoured by the Swiss until there came the great modern incursion of tourists, seeking not an asylum from religious or political persecution, nor the pleasure of seeing Voltaire or Madame de Stael, but ice sports under a bright sun in mid-winter.

The Swiss National Sports make a short and a dull list. They are rifle-shooting, gymnastic games, and rustic dancing to jodelling. They reflect the character of a little nation which, almost alone of the peoples of the world, finds it a matter of joy and not of labour to undertake military training, and carries the love of that training so far as to make rifle-shooting the chief national sport. The Swiss become very expert marksmen, and the government wisely encourages this fancy for so patriotic and useful a sport. The citizen is allowed to keep his government rifle at home, and to use it as much as he likes for his private pleasure.

The gymnastic sports are organised on national lines like the old Greek games. They embrace almost every form of manly exercise from wrestling to weight – lifting. Mr. Symonds, whose pictures of Swiss village life are very intimate and revealing, makes frequent references to the Turnfests (sports gatherings) of the Turnvereins (gymnastic clubs) of the Cantons. He recalls once being invited to drink wine at an inn with a band of gymnastic victors :

The gymnasts had thrown off their greatcoats, and stood displayed in a costume not very far removed from nudity. They had gained their crowns, they told me, that evening at an extraordinary meeting of the associated Turnvereins of the Canton. It was the oddest thing in the world to sit smoking in a dimly-lighted, panelled tap-room with seven such companions. They were all of them strapping bachelors between twenty and twenty-five years of age ; colossally broad in the chest and shoulders, tight h the reins, set massively upon huge thighs and swelling calves ; wrestlers, boxers, stone-lifters, and quoit-throwers. Their short bull-throats supported small heads, closely clipped, with bruised ears and great big-featured faces, over which the wreaths of bright green artificial foliage bristled. I seemed to be sitting in a dream among vitalised statues of the later emperors, executed in the decadence of art, with no grasp on individual character, but with a certain reminiscence of the grand style of portraiture. Commodus, Caracalla, Alexander Severus, the three Gordians, and Pertinax might have been drinking there beside me in the pothouse. The attitudes assumed by these big fellows, stripped to their sleeveless jerseys and tight-fitting flannel breeches, strengthened the illusion. I felt as though we were waiting there for slaves, who should anoint their hair with unguents, gild their wreaths, enwrap them in the paludament, and attend them to receive the shouts of ” Ave Imperator ” from a band of gladiators or the legionaries of the Gallic army.

Apart from the rifle-shooting (which is commonly practised on Sundays), the frequent gymnastic meetings (which mark every feast-day), and the dancing festivals of the various harvest celebrations, the Swiss have no strictly national sport, unless it be chamois hunting. That last has been almost wholly given up to the visitors, who are willing to pay large prices for guides and shooting rights. The chamois is rare in Switzer-land now ; though there are rumours that enterprising hotel-keepers are beginning to ” stock up ” the heights near their places with bred specimens.

A wild chamois hunt offers the perfection of excitement and hunting risk. The animals are very nimble and very wary. As they browse they set an old doe as sentinel—a concession to femininity which seems to be dictated by wisdom —and it needs the greatest skill and daring to get past her watch and approach near enough for a shot. Lest there may be a doubt as to the scarcity of the true chamois in the mind of the reader, let me explain that the ” chamois skin ” of commerce, so plentifully used for gloves and for polishing cloths, is not, as a rule, chamois skin at all, but the dressed hide of rough-woolled sheep the same hide which, after different methods of dressing, serves for all kinds of gloves—chamois, kid, ” reindeer skin,” dog-skin, doe-skin. All may come from the sheep.

Mr. John Finnemore gives a picturesque description of a herd of chamois in flight alarmed by the hunter :

The merry little kids forsake their gambols, and each runs to its mother and presses closely against her flank. The older ones leap upon boulders and rocks, and gaze eagerly on every hand to discover the whereabouts of the intruder. A few moments of watchful hesitation pass, and then, perhaps, a wandering breeze gives them a sniff of tainted air, and they fix upon the direction from which the foe is advancing.

Now follows a marvellous scene—that of a band of chamois in full retreat. The speed and agility of their flight is wonderful. They are faced by a precipice. They skim up it one after the other like swallows. There is no path, no ridge, no ledge : but here and there little knobs of rock jut out from the face of the cliff, and they spring from projection to projection with incredible sureness and skill, their four feet sometimes bunched together on a patch of rock not much larger than a man’s fist. They vanish with lightning rapidity, and the hunter must turn away in search of another band, for these will not halt till they are far beyond his reach in some sanctuary of the hills quite inaccessible to him.

Very often a number of hunters go together, and close upon the chamois from every side. Then the swift creatures are in a ring, and, as they rush away down-wind, they are bound to come within shot of those posted on the side towards which they flee. Some-times the chamois are turned back by long stretches of cord set upon sticks, and drawn across places where they could escape from the ring of hunters and drivers. From the cord flutter bright pieces of cotton cloth—red, blue, or yellow—and at sight of these the chamois face about and try another path. But when driven to the extremity of terror, chamois have been known to dash upon the line of flags, some clearing the obstacle with a flying leap, others bodily charging the rope, and bursting a way through. Very often the latter entangle their horns in the rope, and go whirling through the air in a double somersault. But they are on their legs again in a moment, and off at tremendous speed.

Apart from the national sports of the Swiss, the national sports of Switzerland—in which, since they were acclimatised, the Swiss take part and frequently excel—are skating, hockey, tobogganing, bob-sleighing, curling, and skiing. Skating is, I suppose, common to all lands where there is much ice. Tobogganing was introduced to Switzerland from America, and skiing from Norway. Another interesting recent sport is a modification of skating, and is known as ice-sailing. The skater rigs up a sail which he holds with his arms stretched out as yards—himself the ship. Skimming the ice one can keep thus up only till the arms are tired, but a most exhilarating speed is possible. Ice-sailing with yachts has been recently imported to the Swiss lakes from America. For ice-yachting, an expert says, ” Dress as if you were going through the Arctic Circle on a fast motor-car in the worst of snow-storms. Goggles, leathers, and furs are indispensable. Use your eyes like a lynx, your rudder like a silk rein on a bloodmare—and you will quite enjoy it.” It has enough of the element of danger as well as of speed to be attractive to the adventurous.

Tobogganing strictly is a Red Indian sport, and the name is Red Indian. But it is so closely related to sleighing that the germ of the sport can be discovered in almost all ice-covered countries. It was natural that in cold climates the wheels of waggons should be replaced, when the earth was frozen, with runners, and thus the sleigh came. The toboggan is a sporting variety of sleigh. Early traces of it can be found in Switzerland. An English visitor to the Alps noticed that the local postman used a rough sleigh to slide down the hills which he had to descend ; was intrigued by the idea of the swift gliding ; and there thus began to be cultivated the sport which has its culminating glory in the Cresta Run at St. Moritz—said, by the way, to have been planned by an Australian. Tobogganing has the charm of a great bicycle ” coast ” many times multiplied. Artificial difficulties have been developed to add to its risks and its excitement. The simple toboggan slide, the dragging of a toboggan up a smooth snow slope, and then sliding down at a pace reaching to thirty miles an hour, is old-fashioned and tame. Nowadays, the slide must be so arranged as to secure a much higher speed, and to give awkward turnings which need cool courage to negotiate. A speed of sixty miles an hour has been reached tobogganing.

Perhaps a charm of the toboggan is that it is not very useful. The flat board, set on runners, can only slide down hill, and you must draw it up first. The ski, on the other hand, has a very definite use. It enables snow-covered country to be traversed with safety at great speed, and a proof of its practical value is that the Swiss army is trained to march on ski. Down a steep slope a pace of forty miles an hour can be reached by the expert ski-runner, and he can leap great heights and great distances with the aid of the momentum of that speed. But to become an expert ski – runner calls for some trouble and pain.

With ski the exploration of the Alps in all kinds of weather has become possible. A recent Journal de Geneve gave the account of an extra-ordinary adventure of two Swiss ski – runners.

On Easter Sunday, 1913, these two set out with a companion from Saas Fee for the Britannia Hut. This hut was reached at 8 A.M., and the three ski-runners went on to the Allalin Pass, but were compelled by mist to return to the hut, which they reached about 5 P.M. On the Sunday evening three Genevese climbers came to the hut, and one of the party of three ski-runners went home, leaving two. These two intended to go to Zermatt over the Adler Pass, but the weather was so bad that it was Saturday before they could start. They were seen to reach the Allalin Pass, and no more was seen or heard of them for a very long time. But it seems that the skiers went down to the Findelen Glacier, up to the Stockjoch, and down via the Monte Rosa Glacier to the Gorner Glacier ; thence up again to the Betemps Hut, where they spent the night. The following day, Sunday, in uncertain weather, they went down on to the glacier again, meaning to go to Zermatt. One of the two, named Dehns, was going on ahead. The wind had blown away all trace of the track made by them the previous day, and the man who had remained behind noticed that Dehns was going too much to the left, and called out to him that he was not taking the right way, but too late. He had not gone more than about sixty yards on to the glacier before he disappeared into a crevasse, hidden beneath a quantity of fresh snow.

” I advanced,” says the narrator, ” cautiously to the brink of the crevasse, and called to Dehns, who replied that he was all right, only he had torn one ear and broken the point off one of his ski. I must use his rope to help him out, he said. I tied the ends of my puttees to my ski-sticks, my bootlaces, and anything else which could possibly serve the purpose of string, and I let everything down to him so that he could tie the rope to it. Dehns could understand what I said, but I could hear nothing that he said owing to the wind and the snowstorm which had begun.”

Finally Dehns cut his way out of the crevasse in which he had been for four hours. He was a little frost-bitten and much bruised ; and his ski were lost. They made their way to the Betemps Hut, and there they remained for twelve days. They had very little in the way of provisions, half of what they had had with them being down the crevasse. Eventually the uninjured man contrived to burst open the door of the hut cellar, where he found food and wine.

Without ski it was impossible for the prisoners to leave, for eight or ten feet of fresh snow had fallen. Moreover, the condition of Dehns, who was badly bruised and in much pain, was sufficient to prevent him reaching Zermatt even with ski. On the twelfth day Dehns was better, and they made an expedition to attempt to recover the lost ski, but in vain. Next they attempted to make a pair of ski out of planks. But that was not successful. The next day they were rescued by a search party. The facts illustrate the value of ski for travelling in the snow and the helplessness of the voyager without them.

Skating, of course, is excellent in Switzerland in the winter. Most of the hotels catering for the tourist have set up rinks which are ” artificial” to the extent that Nature is assisted a little to produce a clear smooth surface of ice. But the skating, like the tobogganing, is limited in its area. The visitor who would have the keys of the Alpine snows must learn the use of the ski.

It will be of interest to chronicle the chief winter sports centres. Good tobogganing, bobsleighing, skating, skiing, ice-hockey, and curling are to be enjoyed at Arosa, Celerina, Davos, Klosters, Lenzerheide, Maloja, Pontresina, and at St. Moritz in the Canton Grisons ; at Andermatt, at Engelberg, at Adelboden, Beatenberg, Grindwald, Gstaad and Wengen in the Bernese Oberland ; at Les Brenets, at Caux, Chateaud-Oex, Chesieres, Diablerets, Les Avants, St. Cergue, Villars-0llon in the Canton de Vaud ; at Champery and Loeche-les-Bains in the Canton de Valais ; and at Chamonix and le Planet in the Chamonix Valley.

As for summer sports, there are golf links at Aigle, Axen-Fels, Campfer, Celerina, Geneva, Gottschalkenberg, Interlaken, Les Rasses (near St. Croix), Lucerne, Lugano, Lugano – Paradiso, Maloja, Menaggio, Montana, Mont-Pelerin, Montreux, Pontresina, Ragaz, Samaden, St. Moritz-Dorf, Territet, Villeneuve, and Zurich-bolder.

Tennis courts are almost everywhere attached to the hotels. Certainly no large village is without them, and they exist in plenty at Adelboden, Chamonix, Engelberg, Grindwald, Interlaken, Lucerne, Berne, St. Moritz, Wengen, and other cities.

The spring season in the Alps begins as early as March in some places, but more generally in April. It is the chief season around Lake Leman. The summer season begins with June, and is the chief season in eastern Switzerland, the Bernese Oberland, Lake Neuchatel, Zurich, St. Gothard, and many other parts. Indeed, there is a summer season in all Switzerland. For the autumn, many favour the Lake of Lucerne and the Lake of Leman. The winter season begins usually with December, and again embraces almost all of Switzerland, but the chief centres for this season correspond with the list of the towns (already given) which make special provision for winter sports.

I do not know whether bath-resorts can be described fittingly as sport centres ; but it is well to chronicle somewhere the fact that Switzer-land is well off for thermal and medicinal baths. Baden is the chief of the bath centres. Owing to its excellent climate and to its hot springs Baden was, in Roman times, the most important watering-place and health-resort to the north of the Alps. Numerous excavations, inscriptions, remains of temples, statues, coins and surgical instruments confirm this fact. In Roman times the principal military road of Helvetia led through Baden, connecting the watering-place with Vindonissa, the great Helvetian fortress, six miles away. In the year 1892, beyond the Roman road in Baden, in the direction of Vindonissa, there were discovered the foundations of a large connected block of buildings, which, when fully excavated, revealed fourteen apartments of various sizes, from 10 to 88 feet in length. The architecture of this building, the medical and surgical instruments and utensils found there, and the proximity of the Helvetian fortress of Vindonissa, where Roman legions were stationed, and the thermal springs show without much doubt that this was the site of a Roman military hospital. Besides those at Baden there are medicinal springs at Ragaz, Champery, Lavey-les-Bains, Passagg, Aigle, St. Moritz-Bad, Grinel-les-Bains, and many other centres. They will provide entertainment for those whose life is not happy without some devotion to a more or less real ailment.