Tag Archives: “A Moveable Feast”

Hemingway the Shredder Dude?

Hemingway on skis in 1927, public domain

Hemingway on skis in 1927, public domain

I liked seeing the town of Schruns last month.  It was Ernest Hemingway’s beloved Austrian winter home during his Paris years, when he was young and innocent and struggling to become a writer.  Skiing is the one Hemingway exploit I can relate to.  Big game hunting, hauling marlin out of the sea, wartime ambulance driving?  They’re all too macho, too far outside my experience.  But I know what it feels like to be alone on a mountain in a blizzard.

I’m not much of a back-country skier, at least so far.  Mount Werner in a blizzard is about as adventurous as I get, and it’s enough.  Some people are fair-weather skiers.  I prefer snowstorms, when powder piles up so deep and fast that my tracks fill in behind me. When the sun comes out, so do other skiers. It’s great at first, and makes for nice pictures. But soon the snow begins to get heavy and develop a crust. I like storms. Icy winds and blinding snow?  Bring ’em on. I love the mountain on storm days because hardly anyone else is out there.  Good. The mountain is mine.

MePowder4 MeSnowGhosts

I switched from skiing to snowboarding eleven years ago.  The learning curve was pretty steep, but it’s much easier on the knees.  I hope to be shredding well into my old age.

Today, Schruns still looks like a working town, unlike nearby Lech and Zurs.  European royalty and others with deep pockets fill the expensive hotels and crowd the expensive restaurants  in those resorts. In Schruns, there are probably no ski valets and it takes some doing to get to the lifts. In the 1920s, none of the present-day ski runs were neatly marked with signs.  The local people were mostly busy making a living.  They had no time for snowy hikes up into the high country just in order to risk life and limb skiing down.  Besides, they believed that devils lurked in the high mountains.

Schruns-Tschagguns Ski Map

Schruns-Tschagguns Ski Map

In Hemingway’s day, everyone who skied was a back-country skier.  There were no gondolas with heated seats and Wifi.  There were no chairlifts.  There were not even any humble tow ropes. As he recalled his life in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote, “Skiing was not the way it is now, the spiral fracture had not become common then, and no one could afford a broken leg.  There were no ski patrols.  Anything you ran down from, you had to climb up to first, and you could run down only as often as you could climb up.  That made you have legs that were fit to run down with.”


Hemingway’s mentor Walther Lent took small groups, including Hemingway’s cronies and sometimes his wife Hadley, up into the untracked high country for the ultimate reward: “unroped glacier skiing, but for that we had to wait until spring when the crevasses were sufficiently covered.”

On a ski trip to Switzerland years ago, I once skied around the rim and down the steep slope of a glacier, ending up at a remote train stop in a valley.  I don’t really claim bragging rights, because I was in abject terror most of the way down.  But I do know what a crevasse looks like:  an impossibly deep blue chasm opening up in the rutted, hard-packed snow in precisely the spot where I think I can manage a turn.  There’s no time to plan.  Survival means improvising, and later wondering how you did it.  Now that’s skiing, Hemingway style.

If Hemingway had lived to see the advent of snowboarding, would he have tried it in Sun Valley, where he lived out his final days?  I like to think so.  I wish he had lived just a little more prudently, for the sake of his liver and his aging knees.  Maybe he would not have succumbed to despair and left us too soon.  I doubt that he would wear knee pads like I always do.  I do know that if he ever buckled on a snowboard on a powder day, he would want to do it again.

Dude, he would be strong and sure and straight and true.



Hemingway in Austria

Ernest and Hadley, Winter 1922, photo from NPR article cited below

Ernest and Hadley, Winter 1922, photo from NPR article cited below

In the golden days of Ernest Hemingway’s youthful career as a writer, he and his athletic first wife Hadley used to escape wintery, gray Paris for a sunny ski town in Austria.  In the 1920s, they could live in Schruns on a shoestring all winter, enjoying crisp snow and roaring fires.  Hadley cheerfully hiked up and skied down bunny hills just behind the hotel while the great man labored at his writing, then joined him for cozy evenings.

A couple of weeks ago I made a literary pilgrimage to the town of Schruns.  (Actually, it was more of a flying visit on a gray rainy day).  There is not a whole lot to see, but I found it moving to stand outside the actual railway station where Hadley and their toddler son Bumby waited to meet Hemingway after he returned from a pivotal meeting in New York, where he made his first major sale.


What Hadley didn’t know at the time was that Hemingway had spent the previous few days with Pauline Pfeiffer, her supposed best friend.  Pauline would shortly become the second Mrs. Hemingway.


The station is just a short walk from the hotel where the young family stayed–and where Pauline had previously insinuated herself for months, supposedly to keep Hadley company, while she single-mindedly pursued Hemingway.  Hadley must have been a little dim to have missed all this going on under her nose, especially when Pauline and Hemingway left at the same time.


Anyway, the hotel still stands.  It’s been remodeled inside, but there is still an actual table from the bar as it was in 1922, when Hemingway regaled Hadley, Pauline and his cronies with his skiing  and writing exploits.

I’m about to re-read Hemingway’s own account of that time in his memoir, A Moveable Feast.

Recently I read an interesting account of Hadley’s life with Hemingway in The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.


There’s an NPR review of that book by Lynn Neary at


Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe–the major sights and the fascinating byways!