If you’re a regular reader of this column, chances are you learned to ski based on the Arlberg technique. Even if you didn’t get specific instruction from a ski instructor, the way you learned was still influenced by the technique.
In Europe during the early 1900’s ski instruction was handled by ski “guides” who passed on pointers to aspiring skiers. In 1907 Hannes Schneider joined the ski guides in St. Anton-am-Arlberg. By 1912 he had developed a progressive system for learning to ski based on the then popular “stem” technique. More than that, he organized the teaching of the system so that guides could teach as many as 10 students at a time. The ski instructor as we know it was born!
Gary Tomlinson was the first to identify Hannes Schneider as the person responsible for the Arlberg technique. His answer came in very quickly all the way from Fernie, British Columbia.
The progression Schneider developed started with the snowplow followed by the snowplow turn, stem turn, stem Christie, and Christie. The Christie was (and still is) a parallel skidded turn. Students were assigned to a level based on their ability and progressed up through the levels.
Hannes Schneider became the director of the St. Anton ski school and turned it into the largest ski school in Europe. Instructors who taught under Schneider were in great demand at other areas in Europe and eventually in the United States. Being a ski instructor became a profession.
The world-wide popularity of the Arlberg technique was aided when Schneider teamed up with a German, Dr. Arnold Frank. Together they made the first instructional ski movies featuring Schneider and the Arlberg technique. Eventually they co-published a book that got translated into English, The Wonder of Skiing! Schneider visited the United States in 1936 demonstrating his technique at ski shows in Boston and New York.
When Hitler and the Nazis took over Austria, Hannes Schneider became a target. The Nazis put Schneider in jail to demonstrate their control over Austria. An American, Harvey Dow Gibson, who was President of Manufacturer’s Trust Bank and head of an international banking committee, intervened on Schneider’s behalf with the German Minister of Finance. The economic pressure worked and Schneider was released.
Gibson brought Hannes Schneider to the United States in 1939 to run the ski school at Mt. Cranmore in Gibson’s hometown of North Conway, New Hampshire. It’s rumored that when Schneider was first shown a picture of Mt. Cranmore he said “but where are the mountains?”
Schneider arrived in North Conway by train and received a royal welcome. Local ski kids formed an arch with their ski poles for Schneider to walk through. The welcome was appropriate since Schneider’s ski school would put Cranmore and North Conway on the ski map. The ski school grew every year from 1939 until Schneider’s death in 1955. Jeff Leich of the New England Ski Museum reports that the ski school gave as many as 800 lessons in one day!
Upon Hannes Schneider’s death, his son Herbert Schneider took over as director of the Hannes Schneider Ski School. Herbert had been a ski instructor in the school since 1940. In one of those interesting links that fate provides, Herbert’s first students were none other than Mr. and Mrs. C.V. Starr!
Every year Cranmore hosts the Hannes Schneider Meister Cup which honors not only Hannes, but also the 10th Mountain Division in which Herbert served. It’s a weekend of nostalgia with vintage clothing, vintage equipment, and yes, vintage skiers. This year the Meister Cup will be held from March 2nd- 4th. For details visit www.skimuseum.org/hsmcr.html.
I began my formal ski instruction in the Hannes Schneider Ski School courtesy of the Conway School Ski Program. It was much like Stowe’s Friday program except ours was on Wednesdays. We followed the Arlberg technique starting with snowplow. With each promotion to a higher level also came the ability to go higher up the mountain via the Skimobile. Bragging rights were involved.
Sad to say I never got all the way up the mountain to the Christie level. As I have mentioned I had trouble making it through a season without breaking a pair of skis. So I was relegated to the alternative to the Wednesday ski program which was square dancing. It’s difficult to master the stem Christie when you’re “Do-Si-Do-ing your corner gal!”