The Father’s Day holiday in the United States has come and gone but amidst this period of endless winter in which alpinists around the world continue to delight in skiing excursions above the tree line, Alps & Meters felt it appropriate to recognize the Fathers of Touring whose pioneering spirit produced this timeless tradition of travel and ski mountaineering. During the earliest days of ski history, the activity of touring was spread by far flung immigrants from Norway and Italy, and sometimes by way of England. The distance that the passion of such men such as John Thompson, Cecil Slingsby, Adolfo Kind, and Sir Alfred Lunn have crossed is not appropriately measured in miles traversed but rather commands an account of the vast generations of skiers who have since followed in their tracks on touring adventures since the 19th century.
A descendant of Telemark, Norway, John “Snowshoe” Thompson, is widely regarded as one of the most prolific mountaineers of the 19th century and father of California skiing. An early resident of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Thompson was a skiing postman who used the 10-foot long wooden skis of his homeland to navigate snow-filled peaks and valleys throughout the states of Nevada and California in an effort to deliver mail to remote mining camps and early gold rush settlements. Traveling with a heavy pack of post, Thompson’s journey was often a 5-day round-trip and legends tell of Thompson navigating blizzards, whiteouts, and countless other weather events to make heroic deliveries of supplies to those in need during the barren months of November – March in which mobility for all but experienced Touring experts and fur trappers was limited to local excursions for firewood. Thompson’s skiing exploits were no doubt fueled by his unique postal profession along with his Norwegian roots which not only influenced his calling to the mountains but also stoked the burning alpine passion of Thompson’s late 19th century contemporary Cecil Slingsby.
Connected to Norway via passion as much as Thompson was attached by lineage, William Cecil Slingsby has been called the father of Norwegian mountaineering. Although an Englishman by birth, Slingsby fell in love with Norway during a visit in 1872 and pursued touring, exploring, and climbing with such passion and vigor that he is most often recognized as the first to summit Norway’s 3rd highest peak, Store Skagastølstind. Like Snowshoe Thompson’s exploits which, at times, defied believability, Store Skagastølstind was considered nearly impossible to climb before Slingsby’s exalted summit in 1876. Adding to his growing prowess, just 4 years later in 1880, Slingsby completed a tour of the Keiser Pass, a journey which is credited as one of the original catalysts of modern-day ski mountaineering. An avid writer mirroring the journalistic nature of today’s travelers and travel guides, Slingsby documented his exploratory efforts and appreciation for his adopted country’s mountainous beauty with the title Norway, The Northern Playground. A publication that has been reprinted multiple times since the first edition, William Slingsby’s book and pioneering adventures on skis made created a ripple of alpine lore and influence that traveled as far South as Turin, Italy and into the 20th century’s where the roots of Slingsby’s adventures gave birth to the modern era of alpine sport and recreation.
Known as the father of Italian Skiing, Adolfo Kind was the Swiss son of a pastor who originally lived in Milan and then Turin, Italy. In the late 19th century, Kind and his local Italian friends were drawn to the nearby mountains and by way of a fortuitous marriage of passion and entrepreneurship, a business was generated importing skis from Glarus, Switzerland to further fuel their alpine excursions. Amidst forays into the snowy elevations of the Italian Alps to the Northwest of Turin, Kind, like the pioneers before him, became utterly fascinated by touring travel on skis and the outdoor peace, quiet, joy, and camaraderie that accompanied him on each of his journeys.
Committed to his recreational craft, and with a ski importation business to foster, Kind developed a deep curiosity centered upon the improvement of ski touring’s newly devised ascension and descending techniques. Importation of equipment and an expanding repertoire of ski mountaineering knowledge anointed Kind an influential expert of the era and region. With his profile expanding within the nascent sport he loved, Adolfo and his Italian ski-brothers-in-arms became founding members of the Ski Club Torino in 1901. Continuing to operate into the mid-20th century, the Ski Club Torino became one of multiple clubs founded in the early 1900’s and some say the alpinists of Turin were the spark that alighted the wild fire of ski club creation generated by the great Sir Arnold Lunn who followed in Slingsby and Kind’s footsteps to legitimize alpine sport ahead of the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
Sir Arnold Lunn was a skier, mountaineer, and writer. He was the Founder of Britain’s first dedicated ski club, the Alpine Ski Club, in 1908 and the Kandahar Ski Club in 1924, the latter of which had a rebellious bent due to its fierce orientation as a ski racing club in a world where downhill events were not yet recognized internationally.
A hero to Great Britain and alpine sport in general, Lunn was introduced to skiing at an early age. He was provided with a world view of mountains near and far by his father, Sir Henry Simpson Lunn, Founder of Lunn’s Travel Agency which developed the first formal commercial tourism in the Swiss Alps.
Having experienced an upbringing surrounded by mountain recreation, it is no surprise that young Arnold founded his university’s mountaineering club. In conjunction with his pernicious academic leanings, like Adolfo Kind’s obsession with the equipment itself, Lunn became convinced that improvements could be made to the existing format of ski racing which, during the late 19th century was formed by the stylistic navigation of various poles spaced uniformly apart in a downhill fashion.
Ultimately, through experimentation and a belief in the sole criteria of speed rather than style, Lunn invented and introduced the proper slalom race when he transformed the practices slopes of Mürren, Switzerland for the Alpine Ski Challenge Cup into a field of a paired flags through which competitors had to turn; the winner being only the individual to navigate the course in the shortest time. Knighted in 1952 for his ski-related diplomacy and massive impact on the sport as we know it, Lunn’s legacy continues to shine brightly. The Mürren Inferno race which is still run each year holds its origins from within Lunn’s Kandahar Ski Club which first inaugurated the race in 1928. In late January, racers like the original 19 club members of 1928, climb the Schiltorn above Mürren and ski down the 2,100 meters to Lauterbrunned 14 kilometers away.
Today, Mürren Inferno attracts over 1,000 competitors from around the world and this part-pilgrimage-part-touring adventure is a testament to the tradition created by the Fathers of Touring from our skiing past. From the 19th century onwards, John “Snowshoe” Thompson, William Cecil Slingsby, Adolfo Kind, and Sir Arnold Lunn, blazed a trail of alpine influence which traveled across continents and generations and which continues to define skiing, touring, and ski mountaineering today. United throughout time are such souls drawn to the beauty of the mountains who have created the virtuous cycle of experiences, memories, and traditions that live on in a never-ending drumbeat of Touring adventure.