Monday, December 15, 2014

Andrew Denning's "Skiing into Modernity"

Andrew Denning is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of British Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History, and reported the following:
A fascinating sketch [below left; click to enlarge] dominates page 99 of Skiing into Modernity. This piece, drawn by the German artist Toni Schönecker and published in a popular ski magazine in 1924, encapsulates the appeal and meaning of the sport in the decades before World War II. Schönecker depicts skiers walking through the city after a day on the slopes. They make their way down a narrow sidewalk, surrounded by the city’s shadowy denizens. A path opens up before the two skiers as they walk with their skis slung over their shoulders, and an aura of light emanates from their bodies, cutting through the gloom of the modern city.

As Schönecker suggests and countless skiers from the hills of Nice to the gates of Vienna argued, Alpine skiing offered a necessary antidote to the physical, emotional, and spiritual hazards of modern life. By taking to the Alps on skis, modern individuals reconnected with the overwhelming beauty of nature while moving through it at great speeds, a paradoxical mix of harmonizing with nature and mastering it that formed the cardinal appeal of the sport in the interwar era.

I describe the motivating ideology of skiers as Alpine modernism, as it was the sport’s beneficent blend of timeless nature and modern values that convinced skiers and the public at large that skiing was more than a mere pastime, it was a potentially transcendent way of life. Skiing into Modernity traces the path of skiers through the twentieth century, examining the changing complexion of Alpine modernism as the sport transformed from a niche sport practiced by European elites to a pillar of the European service economy and a mark of middle class identity.
Learn more about Skiing into Modernity at the University of California Press website and Andrew Denning's website.

Writers Read: Andrew Denning.

--Marshal Zeringue