"Tourism, Sport and Health" 2014, no 5


General Mariusz Zaruski - a tourist and a sportsman


Key words:
Historia turystyki, sportu, jachting, XIX i XX w., Polska

Mariusz Zaruski is one the most important person in history of Polish tourism. He was great propagator of summer and winter tourism. As an alpinist, organiser of skiing, he was founder and manager of the Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service. Zaruski was also organiser of Polish yachting. In the period 1918-1939 Zaruski was a officer of Polish Army too.


Generał Mariusz Zaruski - turysta i sportowiec

Słowa kluczowe:
History of tourism, sport, yachting, XIX and XXth Century, Poland

Mariusz Zaruski należy do najwybitniejszych postaci polskiej turystyki. Jego osiągnięcia w propagowaniu rozwoju turystyki górskiej są wielkie. Interesował się turystyką zimową i letnią. Widząc związane z nią niebezpieczeństwa powołał do życia TOPR. Stworzył także polski jachting, sportowy i turystyczny. Należy pamiętać, że w latach 1918-1939 był także oficerem Wojska Polskiego.


Fate gave him a long and interesting life, history - the possibility of exercising an extensive activity in various domains, different periods and environment. His family shared the destiny of thousands Polish families: patriotic traditions-participation in insurrections-exile-cons-piracy-trials. Zaruski was born in Podole; after the death of his father his family moved to Odessa. While he was studying mathematics and physics, he became fascinated by the sea, joined the ships as an ordinary sailor and sailed to the Far-East and African routes. During his studies he showed leader and organising abilities. He was the co-organiser of the „Sokol” (“Falcon”) Gymnastics Society section in Odessa which formed circles of Polish literature lovers and conspired against the tsar’s Russia. He was imprisoned in 1894 and sent to Siberia for 5 years. Just as the majority of educated Poles, he was able to continue his education after a few years time. In the maritime school in Archangielsk, a little closer to Europe, he got his honourable graduation. He commanded the „Hope” with a schooner, but still he was a prisoner-deportee. After the termination of his punition he got married and moved to Cracow, to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts there and finished the painting institute, where he had been studying under the leadership of most famous Polish artists on the turn of the centuries [1]. In 1903 he joined the Tatra Society. It was one of the first organisations of this type in Europe. It was founded in 1873, it assembled the intellectual, artistic and political élite of Galicia of that time (i.e. the southern Poland’s region which was then under the rule of Austro-Hungarian monarchy), as well as, however not at such level, the elites of other Polish lands. A year after, mainly because of his wife’s illness, he moved from Cracow to Zakopane, the capital of The Tatra mountains. He lived there for 10 years. He became a very well-known person. As an artist and alpinist, organiser of skiing, the founder and manager of the Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service (Tatrzañskie Ochotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe - TOPR), he gained popularity throughout Poland, which was further developed by his military, marine and tutoring, as well as literary activities. Of course he made a career - from a sailor in Russian schooners to a general - aide-de-camp of the President of Polish Republic. From the author of students’ antitsar’s leaflets to an esteemed author, from a poor deportee to a maritime senior. He achieved a lot for Zakopane and the mountains, not only in sports and tourism. He was active in the field of the protection of the environment, culture, communal and economic matters.

In the mountains

Already 3 January 1904 Zaruski with 5 of his colleagues, students from Cracow made a winter enter on the Giewont (1994 metres) [2]. It was followed by few other, very difficult walks through the Tatra peaks and passes. Zaruski started a very intensive tourist and alpine activity. He walked alone in the mountains having a few accidents, without a mountaineer guide. More often he trained mountain guides himself, in using tourist equipment and - then - life-saving equipement. He alsotrained them in skiing. He belonged to the leading group of mountain-climbers in summer climbing. He is the author of dozens of summer enterings - difficult and very difficult ones. He didn’t look for artificial, invented difficulties in mountain-climbing, although he didn’t avoid difficult roads. Even in overcoming them he saw an education aim for the young generation. It was Zaruski himself who induced the President of the Polish Republic in 1925 (12 July - being his aide-de-camp) to an excursion when the rain came down in sheets to a newly opened shelter house in the Gasienicowa Valley. The President was also the first guest who spent a night in the shelter [3].

However, Zaruski’s biggest achievements were in the domain of winter mountaineering (Alpinism in The Tatras). This domain was at that time at the beginning of it’s development, the Tatras were deserted in winter, people hardly ever visited the mountains [4]. In spite of  few people having visited them before, either on foot or skiing (the first skiing expedition of the Polish authorship took place in 1894, the first skiing run was organised by the Austrian army in 1901) [5] it was still a place to discover. The common ignorance in the skiing field and connected with it the difficulties in moving in deep snow made an extremely small number of people interested in that sport. An additional difficulty was the fact that there were none winter guides in the mountains. On one hand the physical difficulties of mountain skiing were overrated, while a real knowledge of real dangers of snow avalanches did not exist. It was only when Zaruski made researches and described this phenomenon, when it was brought up for the first time [6]. Winter excursions were those events, that in XIXth and during the turn of the centuries were described in magazines as extremely courageous and difficult experiments.

Zaruski did his first expeditions without skis. With the complete unawareness of these mountains in the period of winter by most alpinists (mountaineers) of those days almost each undertaken expedition in those years on the snow had a pioneer character. In the history of conquering the Tatras the name of Zaruski was written in golden syllables - he conquered more than 20 peaks in winter as the first, moreover a few tens passes and ridges [7]. Where he was not the first one, he usually took second or third place of the winter conquerors. He made his last winter entering at the age of 58 (April 1925) being already a general and aide-de-camp of the President of the Polish Republic [8].

He often climbed as the first on the peaks skiing, the most difficult enterings go back to the year 1907 - the entering on the Goat Peak [9]. Afterwards, there were others: among other particular peaks was one of the most difficult routes in Europe - the „Eagle’s Path”. The ski passion pushed Zaruski onto an uncomfortable ski-climb - the propagandist significance of the achievement of the peak on skis was of course the strongest motive power for such a fanatic skiing populaser as Zaruski. He was above all interested in the Tatras, and from the rest of the Carpathian routes entered the Babia Mount (1725 metres - the highest peak in the Beskids) as well as in Gorce Mountains. Another sign of Zaruski’s interest was his participation in film taking about mountain-climbing in the Tatras in July 1912: he presented the emotions of mountaineering on the „Eagle’s Mountain Path” in the circle of the best mountain-climbers in front of the cameraman of the French Pathe firm [10].

He climbed the highest peaks and passes in the Tatras in order to be delighted by the fighting difficulties with the sporting soul with an enormous opponent and the reward in this fight was the satisfaction of conquering the difficulties and beautiful views.

Polish scientists mainly from the Jagiellonian University (founded in 1364) were exploring the Capathians from the beginning of the XIX century. They undertook explorations of the Tatra caves several times in the second half of the century. In 1907 Zaruski was interested in speleology. He was the first who started to use mountain-climbing equipment. By that he became the pioneer of the Polish sport-speleology. He started with scientific research in which he helped the famous scientist from Cracow Wladislaw Pawlica. Then he visited the caves as regards of tourism, he discovered some of them and penetrated into them himself. His research, modern exploration technique and interesting descriptions contributed in a great way the popularisation of speleology [11].

Two centres became the cradle of Polish skiing in the turn of XIX and XX centuries. The Tatras and Lvov (the Eastern Carpathians) in which a handful of enthusiasts were active. The last attracted more and more followers of skiing because among others of its mild slope. The first Polish skiing handbook and 14th in the world was published by Józef Schnaider already in 1898 [12]. The popularity of skiing in the Tatras grew systematically but slowly. They were individuals at the beginning, in 1904 the local section of the „Sokól” Gymnastics Society introduced skiing into the exercise programme. Moreover army sections were trained in Tatras. In the season of 1904/05 Zaruski, of the age of 38, started to learn skiing. In 1905 he ascended to climb the „Giewont” on skis. Starting already next year, he undertook few days excursions [13]. In this year the Zakopane skiers cercle strengthened itself so much that a idea was taken to establish an organisation uniting skilovers to this sport. The Zakopane Skiing Section (ZON) in December 1907 was formed and its secretary as well as its treasurer became Zaruski. The organisation started its activity since the organisation of the first civil skiing course in Poland. It was announced (in the objective of advertisement) in a few magazines. It started 25 December 1907 and lasted 9 days. 53 persons finished the course from 67 person (including 12 women). The training was free. Lieutenant Henryk Bobkowski from Neustadt, Mathias Zdarski’s pupil, took over the management of the army sections, for free. The exercises were carried on twice a day (9.30-12.00 and 13-17) [14]. These Christmas and New Year courses became then a tradition of the Zakopane Skiers’ Section, with their main instructor remaining Zaruski. Thanks to Zaruski and his famous good friend, the great composer Mieczys³aw Kar³owicz, the Zakopane shops started to import sports and tourist equipment from the well-known Vienna firm Mizzi Langer, the Tatra shelters were prepared to work in winter, the first skiing winter routes were marked with signs. Zaruski organised lectures with slides for guests entertaining themselves in winter propagating the beauty of the Tatras in winter. He propagated skiing in wide social circles - in a word, printing, his own character and first of all unshaken belief in his future. In spite of many unfavourable opinions Zaruski proclaimed that „the future of Zakopane depends on skiing” [15]. He was not always treated seriously. The main aim of skiing - according to Zaruski - was tourism and sport. Besides satisfaction which the downhill run gives us, it offers possibilities to reach deep into Tatras. Zaruski considered skiing a „way, giving access to the source of strength, refreshing, cleaning the souls from the sediment (...) it is a sport, but a sport which opens us (...) the gates to the mountains, mountain pastures, frozen ponds (...) the majesty of the Tatra desert in winter (...) Besides, it gives health, develops our character, teaching us courage and deciding quickly, increases the sense of beauty” [16].

As a result of misunderstanding he withdrew from the organisation of the first Polish competition for skiers in Zakopane in 1910. He organised the 2nd competitions, international ones yet on 5 February 1911 together with other skiing organisations. Zaruski helped in the work, but he was not a devotee of top-level skiing. He preferred the natural difficulties on the slopes. On the 26 December 1907 the Zakopane Skiing Organisation was transformed into a Skiing Section of the Tatra Society [17].

Courses, competitions, excursions etc. were continued. Compulsory skiing lessons were introduced in the private grammar-school for children and youth on Zaruski’s initiative [18]. More and more lovers of this sport came to Zakopane mainly thanks to Zaruski and his skiing propagation. In 1911 Zaruski has propagated sledging, since 1908 took the lead of the committee building a bobsleigh track in Zakopane. After a number of perturbations this track came into being in the year 1913 [19].

Snow avalanches were a matter of Zaruski’s enormous care. Though only 1 skier died up to know but M. Kar³owicz exactly was - the co-creator of skiing, Zaruski’s good friend. They were talking together a few dozens of hours before death about the necessity of creating the Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service - TOPR [20]. Zaruski has made the research of avalanches since 1908 and distinguished himself in inventions having to help and protect skiers in the mountains. He created (applied in most accident up to know) a terminology, published the first winter guides through the Tatras including maps. He became a matter of historical interest as a creator, organiser in the domain of safety and the first manager of the Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service - TOPR for many years. This is his living monument. We will not write more as TOPR has not much in common with sport. Its members saved alpinists’ and skiers’ lives many times both in summer and winter. TOPR runs up till know and has a wonderful, rich, a history full of glory.


Zaruski’s activity as a writer is very rich. He devoted 4 books to Tatras, many dozens refer to the maritime activity. They are either papers of a training character, regulations, rules in sailing and belletristic positions. He devoted two other books to horse-riding as a sport.

His mountaineering columns talk about the basic issues of tourism, winter sports and mountain life-saving. The description of mountaineering and skiing excursions as well as life-saving expeditions are colourful, emotional report/coverages. He published 56 articles „From the Tatras” in the magazine entitled „Zakopane”. Up to this day it is a excellent chronicle of the development of tourism and Tatrian skiing.

The mountaineering ideology and controversies with its opponents take a lot of place. This ideology was in principle very simple: people going to the Tatras are exposed to dangers, which form their characters. Mountaineering has a great social meaning as a school of fortitude and courage. The character of the nation being in captivity has to be developed in this school in order to be able to oppose oneself effectively against this slavery. So the essence of mountaineering is- according to Zaruski - a fight with adversities and dangers of the Tatra world. As a final conclusion - a fight with oneself [21]. This was something intermediate between Karłowicz’s aestheticism of the Tatras and alpinism arising in the Tatras, Zaruski’s Tatra literary heritage and comprising ideas in it as well as his organisational activity in the realm of mountain tourism and skiing have their current values. This paper mainly is to introduce Zaruski as a military man - sportsman but we should also remember that he also was active in other areas. He was a member of the Section of Nature of the Tatra where he delivered lectures on mountain nature. Seeing the threat (already then) from the side of more and more numerous tourists in the Tatras, he participated in the creation of the Section of Rescue of the Tatras TT (vice-president since 1913). He was a member of the Section of Friends/Patrons of Zakopane (vice chairman), he was the co-author and a person actively engaged in the development of the Zakopane public library. He graduated from a fire-fighting course in Cracow and then was a inspector/supervisor at the fire-brigade in Zakopane.


He joined shooters’ section after the of the First World War and after to the Legions. He served in the 1st regiment and quickly advanced to the Lieutenant rank. In 1916 he was already a captain of horse. The so called swear crisis when the Lieutenants refused to take an swear for the faith to the Germans, he found himself at the post of a commander of the regiment. He was imprisoned and set free in 1917, he came back to Zakopane where he became the commander of the Polish Army Organisation. After Poland regained independence he was appointed commander of the army in Nowy Targ. At the moment when the Polish-Russian war broke out in spring 1919 he assumed command of 11 regiment of uhlans. In March 1923 at the rank of Lieutenant he assumed command of the post of the General colonel of the President of the Polish Republic (of S. Wojciechowski). Then he was appointed general, he performed the function of aide-de-camp till the year 1926. After the coup d’état in May he left the service. However, in 1927 he was given the post of foreman in Wejherowo. Since that time he devoted himself to organising maritime education for the youngs. He organised yachting courses for scouts and was busy with maritime education. In the years 1935-1939 he was a captain of the „Zawisza Czarny” scout yachting school and sailed teaching new generations of Polish sailors. After soviet Russia attack on Poland in 1939 he was imprisoned by the Russians and died in prison in September 1941. The ceremony of transfer of Zaruski’s corpse was held in November 1997 at the Zakopane cemetery lying at the foot of the Tatras.


[1] K. Lieutenant. Kubik M., Symposium dedicated to Mariusz Zaruski, „Nautologia” XVI, 1981, no 4; M. Pinkwart, By Zaruski’s Zakopane path, Kraków 1983.
[2] M. Zaruski, The chronicle of expeditions in the Tatras 1903-1907, “Taternik” 2, 1908, no 1.
[3] The Archives of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane (indicated further as AR/NO), AR/NO 257.
[4] M. Zaruski, The Tatras as a desert, “Sfinx” 1912, no 12.
[5] M. Zaruski, An outline of the development of the skiing and Polish winter tourism in the Tatras, “Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzańskiego” 34: 1913, p. 35.
[6] S. Ziemba, With the traces of two planks, an outline of the history of skiing, Kraków 1955, p. 57.
[7] M. Zaruski, The snow avalanches in the Tatras, “Zakopane” 1, 1908, no 13, 16, 17, 19.
[8] AR/NO 259.
[9] AR/NO 260.
[10] M. Zaruski, On the skis on the Goat Peak, “Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzańskiego” 29: 1908.
[11] M. Pinkwart, ibid., p. 75.
[12] AR/NO 262.
[13] J. Schnaider, On Scandinavian skis, Kraków 1898.
[14] M. Zaruski, By the Rohaczów border in winter, “Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzańskiego”33: 1912; of this: The Eagle’s Mountain Path in winter, “Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzańskiego” 34: 1913; of this: The Mieguszowiecki Peak over the Black (2405 metres) by the north wall in winter, “Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Tatrzańskiego” 35: 1914.
[15] M. Zaruski, A guide through the skiing area of Zakopane and the Polish Tatras, Zakopane 1913, p. 7.
[16] M. Zaruski, The contribution to mountaineering psychology, “Wierchy” 7: 1929, p. 75.
[17] AR/NO 261.
[18] Ibid..
[19] M. Pinkwart, ibid., p. 110.
[20] M. Zaruski, ibid., p. 117.
[21] M. Zaruski, On the pathless tracts of the Tatras. Excursions, impressions, descriptions, elaborated by W.H. Paryski, Warszawa 1958.

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