SUMMER IN WINTER.
NOTHING in the way of weather could well be pleasanter than tbat with which St. Moritz was blessed in the last quarter of 1894. Since the first week of November there has been no rain, the sky has been nearly always cloudless, the sun nearly always bright, the moonlight nights glorious. Yet veteran visitors and knowing natives were continually saying,— " Wait till we get the big snow, and then you will see true St. Moritz weather." The big snow sometimes comes in November, oftener in December, now and then not until January. It falls for three or four days, and then, until the snows of winter are swept away by the rains of spring, there is little downfall of any sort, and the weather is finer than ever. So at least runs the legend. The new year came with icy fingers, the night temperature, as indicated by a thermo- meter placed outside a bedroom window, sank to 40° under the freezing-point of Fahrenheit, equal to 60° nearer the lake and the ground. Yet, save on one villainous Saturday, the sun was so bright, the air so windless and dry, that the cold was little felt, and invalids could still take their accustomed exercise without inconvenience. Old inhabitants began to think that the clerk of the weather had left St. Moritz out of his calculations, and that for once in a while the big snow was going to miss fire.
We heard of heavy snowfalls everywhere, at Berne, Basel, Geneva, and other low-lying places, in the South of France and the North of Italy and Spain, yea, even in Algeria ; yet here at St. Moritz, though it is 6,000 ft. above sea-level, there was barely enough snow for a little make-shift tobogganing on the village run, and the post still travelled on wheels. But January 13th brought a portentous change. The tem- perature rose almost to freezing-point, the sky was grey, the wind veered round to the south (all our bad weather Domes from Italy), the mountains were blotted out, and the big snow set in. It fell steadily, persistently, and continu- ously, yet quietly withal, until Thursday morning, when there came a lucid interval, followed later in the day by another downfall.
While the downfall lasted, and for some time afterwards, the Kuhn skating-rink presented a strange spectacle. It was crowded with horse-sleighs and men, who removed the snow, not as fast as it fell, but as fast as they could. Two or three score visitors, nearly all English and of both sexes, helped vigorously in the work, plying shovels and scrapers with great energy. Clad in long coats and snow-gaiters, and wearing worsted caps which covered their ears and necks, they looked like so many Arctic explorers. Bat the snow is so dry that, unlike our English snow, it neither wets nor balls. You can shake it off your clothes as though it were dust.
On Friday morning another change,—a transformation so startling that it might have well been wrought by the hand of some mighty magician. We were in the" full tide of summer time." A sky unflecked by a single cloud, of that glorious ineffable blue which poets love to sing and no painter can portray, a still air and a sun temperature of 115°. Mountains and valleys all white, and the snow falling from the pine-trees in mimic avalanches that sparkled in the bril- liant light like untold millions of tiny diamonds. The silent St. Moritz See, like a vast winding-sheet, without sign of life or show of water, except at its northern extremity, where the river Inn, escaping for a brief space from its icy prison, leaps joyously into the Charnadttra, gorge. The clearing of the rink still went on—with a difference—most of the men doffed their coats, some their waistcoats also, and even then were quite warm enough. Straw hats were as common as in the dog-days, and ladies found it expedient to protect their eyes with goggles and their complexions with sunshades. Mean- while had come reports of "moving accidents" and fatal disasters. On the second day of the big snow, the post was nearly four hours in getting from St. Moritz to Silvaplana, a distance of little more than three miles. On another day the mail missed altogether. The snow was 10 ft. deep on the Julier Pass, and when the belated sleighs reached the Hospice, the horses were so spent that they could go no further, and the letter-bags had to stay there until the following morn- ing. On the Fluela a pair of horses and their driver were killed by an avalanche, and two travellers, one of
them a lady, coming from Davos, had an experience which they are not likely to forget. Finding it impos- sible to get further than the Fluela Hospice, they put up there for the night, and attempted to continue their journey the next day ; but the snow lay so deep and loose that they had presently to get out of the sleighs (one passenger to a sleigh is the rule in midwinter) and literally breast the snow. Soon afterwards they came on the remains of an avalanche, which had to be tunnelled before they could go on. At nightfall the travellers, being still far from a village or inhabited house, were glad to take refuge in a roadside stable, and there pass the night, the lady sleeping in a manger. On the following day, they were extricated from their unpleasant predicament by a rescue-party of eighteen men, who cleared a way for the sleighs, and the two unfor- tunates reached their destination without further mishap ; but as they had been twenty-seven hours without other food than two apples and an orange, which the gentleman happened to have in his pocket, they were rather hungry. They had taken two days and two nights to do a journey which in ordinary weather is done in ten hours. Yet the chief sufferers during Alpine snow-storms are the horses, not drivers and travellers. The latter can take care of themselves ; they are enveloped in rugs and wraps, and, for the most part, have only to sit still and admire the grandeur of the scenery (weather permitting); but, snow or shine, the horses must struggle on, often till they drop. No work is harder than dragging even a light load through deep snow. While the sun was shining so brightly last Friday, I watched from the Silvaplana Road the efforts of two horses attached to a sleigh, by no means heavily laden, to get down the hill to St. Moritz Bad. The Schlittbahn (which I take the liberty of translating "fairway ") being narrow, one of the horses was in deep snow, and try as they might—and they drew right gallantly—the poor creatures stack fast every ten or fifteen yards. On this the driver would descend from his seat, widen the way for a short space, then urge them to a fresh effort always with the same result,—a desperate spurt and another stoppage. But here the snow is little more than 3 ft. deep ; on the two passes still open (the Federal Mail Service over the Bernina and the Albula has been, perforce, discontinued) it is 10 ft. deep. On one evening last week, several post horses, which had brought the mails over the Julier, fell exhausted as they entered Silvaplana, and had to be plied with stimulants before they were able to rise and crawl to the nearest stable. But modern civilisation is pitiless ; men must travel and mails be carried, even though horses perish. Happily, however, snow-storms are not fre- quent even in the Alps ; and once a Schlittbahn is made, and the snow well packed, travel becomes easy and pleasant,— much pleasanter than in spring, when the roads are often deep in mud ; and in summer, when horses and their drivers are tormented with flies and blinded with dust. The late snowfall is said to be the heaviest known in the Engadin for seven years ; and as, since I began this letter, another fall has set in, with every appearance of continuing for several days, it seems likely that St. Moritz will enjoy the unwonted luxury of two big snows in one season.
St. Moritz Dorf, January 21st. W. W.