Hannes Schneider

The Father of Modern Skiing- Hannes Schneider
By Laurie J. Puliafico

 

Hannes Schneider got a hero's welcome in 1939 ad he for off the train and walked down the North Conway station platform with assistant Benno Rybizka

 

Hannes Schneider is considered by many as the Father of Modern Skiing. He was a true alpine skiing pioneer.

Hannes was born in Austria, the son of a cheese maker. He was originally an apprentice to his father in as a cheese maker, but loved the snow. He loved to ski and loved teach others to ski.

In 1907 he signed up as a full time ski instructor and guide at the Hotel Post in St. Anton, Austria. While at St. Anton, he continued to develop his instructing technique which became known as the “Arlberg Method”. His technique was the first uniform method of ski instruction. The Arlberg later dominated the world of skiing. It was systematic methods, which lead skiers from a simple snowplow, through the stem christie turn and on to a parallel turn.

During World War I he enlisted in Austria’s military as a ski instructor for Austria’s alpine troops. There he was able to train beginners to become competent skiers in only a matter of weeks. Hannes had fought with the Austrian army in Russia and on the Italian front.   

After the war he returned to St. Anton, where he continued to develop and refine his ski instruction techniques. Some of his refinements included discipline he had learned in the military. During this time Hannes had many students who took his teaching techniques to teach others to ski, emphasizing safety first. As skiers developed, his techniques also allowed them to gain speed while remaining in control even on the steepest slopes. Not only did his method prove to be a successful way to teach others to ski, but also it brought skiing from being considered as hazardous to a sport, to one which many people could enjoy. The techniques he developed are still widely used today.

n 1921, Dr. Arnold Frank, a German Documentary film maker showed history’s first instructional ski film. This film was based on the Arlberg method. Hannes demonstrated the techniques in this film. Later, Dr. Frank and Hannes teamed up to publish The Wonders of Skiing (Wunder des Schneeschuhs). They used stills from the movie to illustrate the technique in the book. It became a very popular publication and was later translated into English in 1931.

In 1928, Hannes and Arnold Lunn organized the first open international alpine combined competition – the Arlberg-Kandahar. The competition was held at St. Anton. An Austrian skier won.

Hannes visited the United States in 1936 to demonstrate his ski techniques at a ski exposition at a winter sports show in the Boston Garden.  He slid up and down a wooden slide which was covered with shaved ice.  Two weeks later, he repeated his performance in Madison Square Garden. 

When Hannes got home from his visit to the United States, Hitler was on the move.  Within 18 months there was no more Austria.  Hannes was thrown in Jail shortly after the Anschluss,  His position as head of the Arlberg school (which was his own school) and as head of Austrian ski certification was taken from him and Hannes nearly met the same fate as his beloved country. 

When American Skiers heard of his plight a few decided to try to do something about it.  The most effective was Harvey Gibson, a native of North Conway, New Hampshire who had become president of the Manufacturer's Trust in New York. 

Gibson had built a major ski resort in his old home town.  There was already a branch of the Arlberg ski school there.  It was owned by Carol Reed and run by one of Hannes students and loyal instructors, Benno Rybizka.  Gibson bought this school from Reed and opened the slopes of Lookout Mountain (now Mt. Cranmore).  He made Reed the operator of a Saks Fifth Avenue Ski Shop. 

After doing this, Gibson contacted the German Minister of Finance.  He persuaded the director, Hjalmar Schancht  to spring Hannes.  In 1939 Hannes left  his native Austria and the Nazis who had taken over and arrived in the United States with much fanfare.

Settling in the Eastern Slope region of New Hampshire, Hannes began his long association with Mount Cranmore. He took over the leadership of the ski school at the area using his Arlberg Techniques. He also developed the first groomed slope by cutting down trees and completely clearing a slope at Cranmore.

Hannes spent the rest of his life in the United States influencing skiing throughout the world with his Arlberg method. Many of his students became some of the world’s most legendary skiers and instructors. Amongst the ranks of former students of Hannes Schneider are Otto Lang and Friedl Pfiefer (Aspen, CO). Many of the great instructors he trained in Austria immigrated to the United Stated during the rise of Hitler.

Hannes Schneider’s contributions to the world of skiing were part of the influence that brought it from something that was done out of necessity (transportation) to the sport it is today. He passed away on April 26, 1955, leaving an important legacy in the history of modern skiing.  After he passed away, his son Herbert took over the ski school and ran it for many years.

In the picture to the left, which is from the 1954 January 50th Anniversary Souvenir Issue of the American Ski Annual and Skiing Journal, Hannes Schneider of St. Anton, Austria and Eastern Slopes, New Hampshire, Uncrowned King of the Arlberg and Miss Marian Husmann of KLM view the KLM International Ski Club Guest Trophy which Hannes Schneider presented to the KLM ski passenger winning the Recreational Guest Races at St. Anton and Davos.

 

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