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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Selling the Alpine Frontier: The Development of Winter Resorts, Sports, and Tourism in Europe and America, 1865-1941

  • Author(s): Esson, Dylan Jim
  • Advisor(s): Klein, Kerwin L
  • et al.

This dissertation analyzes the reasons why Europeans and Americans transformed their winter mountains from dismissed rural landscapes into sunny refuges for elite leisure, recreation, and health before World War II. By focusing on four resorts--Davos, Switzerland; Kitzbühel, Austria; Lake Placid, New York; and Sun Valley, Idaho--this study outlines the genealogy of winter resorts and emphasizes that they were a transnational creation that emerged from the flow of information and people across national borders. Key to this transformation were German tuberculosis treatments, British romantic thought, British sporting traditions, American youth culture, American consumerism, and the economic crises caused by World War I and the Great Depression.

This study has three larger goals. First, it aims to make a contribution to environmental history, which has already documented how a desire for natural resources and an appreciation for natural scenery dictated changes in the environment. My study adds to this literature by illustrating how concerns about health shaped the perception and economic evaluation of the natural world. The study's second objective is to illustrate the role that climate played in affecting cultural and economic developments. Most environmental historians have concentrated only on the fecund months of the calendar when telling their stories. My dissertation, though, examines how people coped with living amidst snow and extreme cold. The third aim of this study is to show that the history of tourism can best be understood in an international context. Historians have produced numerous regional and national histories of tourism, but too few have considered the impact of international travelers on economic and cultural life of local communities.

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