Z�rs, a village with a population of only 60, is situated in a valley 6,000 feet up in the Austrian Arlberg. It has, nevertheless, a rate of growth that rivals Phoenix, Arizona—for in the last five years the population has doubled, chiefly, it is reported, as a result of the efforts of the baker and the village schoolmaster.
It has become commonplace that at the beginning of the second week in December every year the serenity of village life is abruptly shattered by the noisy arrival of over 500 members of the Oxford, Cambridge and Trinity College, Dublin ski clubs, who converge on Z�rs from all over Europe and even more distant points. The majority arrive by special trains from the three universities immediately after the end of the winter term. The ski party is, however, by no means confined to members of the universities, but is open to their friends. Every year there is a large contingent from Vienna University. Other skiers arrive from Munich and Paris, Geneva and Rome, and there are even one or two aspiring American businessmen who forsake their Wall Street desks for a pre-Christmas skiing holiday.
From both Oxford and Cambridge there are always Commonwealth, American and other foreign students, many of them Rhodes scholars. This year, in fact, there were several Indians who joined the party. At the fancy dress ball, which takes place every year, they paraded around the room dragging a Portuguese in chains with a placard bearing the words: "What happened to Goa?" While this was going on, an American who had not traveled much outside Anglo-Saxon countries turned to the person sitting next to him and said, "Be a prince and give me a light for my cigarette."
"Vat do you mean, 'Be a prinz'? I am already a prinz," replied the other in a rich Austro-Hungarian accent while giving the startled American a light.
The Irish, from Trinity College, Dublin, numbering about 100, are by far the largest non-English group in the party. A girl was overheard on the ski slopes having the following conversation with a Cambridge student:
"Why is it that the Irish do not take part in the ski races?"
"They're always too drunk."
"But why do they come skiing with Oxford and Cambridge?" No answer was forthcoming to this, for nobody, not even the Irish themselves, can give an explanation of when or how the association with Oxford and Cambridge came about. As the Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, observed recently, speaking on the immigration bill: "The Irish are an anomaly."
The Oxford University Ski Club book is of little help in explaining the mystery. For the last entry in the book states: "Secretaries of the club have in recent years been lazy in writing accounts annually of the club's activities: I trust this will not continue." The entry is dated 1937 and thereafter the pages are blank. No mention is made of the Irish skiing with Oxford and Cambridge before the war. So the mystery remains.
Whenever or however the Irish joined, the Oxford and Cambridge Ski Club was founded in 1922, with the object of holding an Oxford-Cambridge race every winter. In the 1930s the club had only 30 or 40 members—all male. Fortunately, times have changed, and over a third of the members are girls. In 1959 about 400 people came with the Ski Club to Z�rs. This year the figure has jumped to well over 550, and the club fills all the hotels to capacity.