“Skiing is the next best thing to having wings.” Oprah Winfrey
Writing is a sedentary occupation but downhill skiing is a fun way for me to take a break from the keyboard and get winter exercise and mental stimulation.
I’m not an expert skier; my kids surpassed me in middle school. But I do okay and I’ve had some amazing ski journeys down some world-class mountains.
Wondering if skiing is a sport that many authors have enjoyed, I did some research. I found slim pickings but one name that popped up frequently was Ernest Hemingway—the epitome of the outdoorsman/author. Not only did he live in Sun Valley Idaho but he also spent whole winters skiing the Alps (especially Schruns, Austria) with his wife, Hadley, and fellow-author, John Dos Passos. They were true adventurers, observing nature as they skinned up logging and cattle trails and staying overnight in alpine huts. Hemingway did most of his writing during that time when he was holed up due to avalanche danger and he used his own experience backcountry skiing for the story, “Cross Country Snow” that appears in his first American volume of short stories, In Our Time (1925). One of my own most adventurous descents was also in Austria, skiing in soft, ungroomed snow down the back side of Ischgl into Switzerland.
Since the character of James Bond skis in several books (e.g. in For Your Eyes Only in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy), I looked up his author, Ian Fleming. I learned that, each March, Kitzbühel, Austria celebrates the world’s most famous spy, the author who created him, and their mutual passion for alpine skiing. The Ian Fleming Snow Challenge is a ski race and social meeting of 007 fans.
Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline children’s books was born in the Austrian Tyrol. I found no evidence of him skiing but one of his paintings depicts skiers on a mountain and was a cover for The New Yorker magazine in 1955. One of his stories, “Hansi,” is about a little boy and a ski trip down a mountain.
One of my most surprising finds was about Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books. In 1894, Doyle visited Norway where the first light, thin, Telemark skis and flexible bindings were invented. That same year, he visited Davos, Switzerland and imported a pair of downhill skis from Norway for what he called “ski running.” (At that time, few Swiss had ever tried downhill skiing.) He was among the very first to ski on the Swiss Alps and introduced his English countrymen to the sport.
The name Heinrich Harrer first came to my attention when my two children participated in the Heinrich Harrer Cup, a ski competition for international schools. Harrer was an author of many books including Seven Years in Tibet and was also an Austrian explorer and mountaineer (known for the first ascent of the north face of the Eiger as part of a four-man team). An excellent skier, he qualified for the Austrian 1936 Winter Olympics team and, in 1937, won the downhill event at the World Student Championships at Zell Am See.
Lowell Thomas, who was an internationally famous writer, radio broadcaster, filmmaker and television host, was a devoted skier who enjoyed Aspen, Colorado. The first of his many books was With Lawrence in Arabia (1924).
Most of the authors who I found to be skiers were men. I did find references to a few female authors but the scant information didn’t indicate that they were accomplished skiers.
A Boston Globe article in 2012 mentioned that Jennifer Egan, who won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad, had recently had a ski vacation in Aspen. The article said it was a well-deserved break after the success of the book. It could have been one of many ski outings or her first time—but it didn’t say.
For the author Sylvia Plath, skiing was a one-time disastrous experience. During a semester break in college, she was introduced to skiing in Saranac, New York. Her date tried to give her instructions but she fell and fractured her fibula, ending up in a leg cast. She recreated the scene in her novel, The Bell Jar.
I couldn’t determine if Danielle Steel was a skier but she has the distinction of having her novel, Winners, named by The Telegraph newspaper in the UK as “one of the corniest ski novels you won’t believe got published”!
Ski resorts like Squaw Valley, California, Aspen, Colorado and Sun Valley, Idaho offer writing conferences and workshops and they draw both male and female writers. The participants don’t take ski breaks, however, because they are always summer events. Speaking of summer, I once had a winter ski day in Montgenevre, France that was so sunny and warm, it felt like I was skiing on sand dunes!
Are there any more writers out there who, like Hemingway, take breaks from skiing to write? Have your ski adventures inspired your writing? Or, like Jennifer Egan, have you taken a break from writing to ski?