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The Little Bear Skating Test

If the name Grindelwald sounds familiar to you, there's good reason. Back in "The Mecca Of Skating: Switzerland's Skating Craze", we learned of the Grindelwald Winter Resort and Skating Club from none other than Olympic Medallists Madge and Edgar Syers. Today, we'll return to Switzerland at the turn of the century for a look at an unique custom of this Swiss skating club, The Little Bear Skating Test.

On Tuesday mornings at the club skaters would form a giant horseshoe and in the center, skaters courageous enough to face a panel of three judges (armed with paper and pen) would perform school figures in the English Style in a formal test surrounded by their peers. No pressure, right? In 1903, Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes penned a "A Pleasure-book of Grindelwald". He explained that when each skater had "negotiated to the best of his ability all four edges and some simple 3's and 8's, this first skater is ordered out of the arena and is succeeded by a second... who is put through the same ordeal. Yet these trials are elective, and the object of them is this. After all candidates of the day have been on the ice, the judges inform each one among them who has fulfilled the traditional requirements of the test that he may go to one of the village shops and buy for the sum of three francs a brooch, with a tiny silver bear dangling from it, which may be worn for all time to come, and people will say 'He has his Little Bear,' and treat him with considerable respect."

The Little Bear Skating Test was the Grindelwald Skating Club's highest honour and was strictly reserved for English Style skaters. Continental Style skaters who made their way to the Grindelwald were given a chilly reception and wouldn't have even been welcome to take the test, let alone meet the criteria of the judges. Although Tuesday's for whatever reason were usually the day the test was held, if any skater was daring enough to wish to take the test, accommodations would be made regardless of the day of the week. Few passed.

Why a Little Bear? The hotel that visiting British skaters often stayed at in Grindelwald, according to Theodore Cornish in an address read before The Alpine Club on May 6, 1890, was called (you guessed it!) The Bear. These British guests organized their own amusements committees and ultimately, the Grindelwald Skating Club was formed not long after the Bear opened in 1888. The use of pins, badges and other adornment as a symbol of one's skating accomplishments could be a blog post in itself certainly. Long before the International Skating Union was even considered, top skaters in Great Britain and North America were certainly well decorated. I must say though... this test in particular bears a certain charm. Go ahead, groan. You know you want to. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":