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