From around the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, the vast majority of the visitors to the Alps were British, urged on by the painters and poets of the romantic era. Initially in the summertime only but from about 1860, winter too. Summer visitors walked and climbed the mountains and winter visitors walked, skated and tobogganed.
In 1891, the first skier appeared in the Jungfrau area, Gerald Fox from Somerset. It was not until 1909/10 that the previously summer-only railway lines from Lauterbrunnen to both Wengen and Mürren opened in winter time; thus both villages became easily accessible the entire year. By 1913/14 the rail service through Wengen was open all the way up to Kleine Scheidegg.
After the first World War, skiing started again and the British, centred on Mürren and Wengen, invented and developed Downhill and Slalom ski racing. The British organised their first National Alpine Skiing championships on the Lauberhorn above Kleine Scheidegg in January 1921. This event is regarded by most ski historians as the first ever Alpine Ski Championships. It was another 9 years before another nation followed suit and it was only after Alpine skiing had been included in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics in 1936 that it could be regarded as being universally accepted.
Uniquely in the Alps, Wengen had a cog railway right to the centre of the skiing slopes, from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg. Consequently a breed of skier evolved in Wengen who enjoyed the downhill run without having to walk up or climb the mountains first.
The forming of the DHO
On 30th January 1924, British skiers in Murren formed the Kandahar ski club. The following year, newly assertive and rather confident in their Alpine racing capabilities, they challenged the skiers in Wengen to a team race. C J White was regarded as the natural leader of the skiers there and he agreed to the race and undertook to raise a team. The race was scheduled for Friday 6th February 1925. The previous evening, he recruited Ken Foster and the pair trawled the bars of Wengen searching for people to press-gang who were perhaps a little more light headed than usual and thus more likely to volunteer to join the team. The team comprised C J White, K D Foster, D Dalrymple, D S Stoneham, and S F B Caulfeild. The reserve was S F Fisken.
The following morning, the Kandahar arrived at Wengen station festooned with all manner of equipment and decorated with shiny K badges. It was suggested that the competition commence with a Slalom race, which was then to be followed after lunch with a straight race. To this the Wengen skiers rapidly agreed, not wishing to admit they had little idea what was a Slalom race!
The Slalom was overwhelmingly won by the Kandahar. Lunch followed and in the interval Ken Foster (who was quite a talented artist and cartoonist) drew some badges which the Wengen skiers pinned to their hats. Although the Wengen skiers also lost the afternoon race, it was not quite so humiliating a defeat as had been the morning’s results.
On the following evening, Saturday 7th February, over dinner in the Palace Hotel Wengen, it was decided that a club should be formed with the avowed intention of competing with the Kandahar again and defeating them.
Those who had raced in the team appointed themselves to the committee, co-opted a few more and the remainder simply became club members. That first year there were eight committee members and six ordinary members!
One of two known photos of the first competition between Kandahar and the Wengen team who were to be christened the DHO the following day. Left to right: Maisie Caulfeild, Barry Caulfeild, Mr Davis, Audrey Sale Barker, Kitty Dobbs, Joyce Foster, Tom Fox, General White. All spectating at the finish, Inner Wengen 6th Feb 1925.
The DHO played an important part in the development of skiing and many DHO names are to be found in the results lists of early international skiing competitions. Today despite the fact that most of our members are holiday skiers not racers, the DHO continues to support alpine racing, to train youngsters to race and is the largest British racing club.