Sepp Ruschp

I grew up in Conway, New Hampshire, which became a center of skiing thanks to Hannes Schneider and Harvey Dow Gibson. Now I live in Stowe and there are a lot of parallels between the two towns. Both became nationally recognized ski resorts thanks to Austrian ski instructors backed by American financiers. In Stowe’s case the Austrian was Sepp Ruschp and the financier was C.V. Starr.

Sepp Ruschp was born in Linz, Austria, on November 17, 1908. His uncle introduced him to skiing when Sepp was 10 years old. Sepp took lessons from the Hannes Schneider Ski School in St Anton and was a quick learner. He soon got involved in competitive skiing which in those days included cross country, ski jumping, downhill, and eventually slalom. Being a natural athlete, Sepp excelled across all the disciplines.

Sepp completed his education in Mechanical Engineering and in 1931 landed a job with the Steyer automobile company. However due to the economic instability in Austria, Sepp was soon laid off. He continued to ski race and began studying to become a professional ski instructor. To become a certified ski instructor in Austria required passing an examination that included knowledge of skiing, mountaineering, first aid, and teaching skiing. The exam was administered by specialists in each of the categories. Only about 25% of those who would take the exam passed. When Sepp took the exam, the teaching skiing examiner was none other than Hannes Schneider. Sepp passed the exam.

Sepp’s competitive success drew the attention of a sports equipment company who hired him to be manager of the sports department in their Linz store. Recognizing that he needed more education related to his new job, Sepp took night classes to get the equivalent of a Business Administration degree.

In 1934 after the Austrian national championships, the head of the Austrian Ski Association told the competitors that he had received a letter from the United States Ski Association with a list of ski clubs in the United States who were looking for ski instructors. Hitler was on the rise and Austria was in a difficult position. Sepp saw the opportunity to escape the uncertainty of Austria by coming to the United States to be a ski instructor.

Sepp would write letters to 90 ski clubs in the United States! He enlisted a tutor in English to help him write the letters and to help him understand the responses. He got responses from Colorado Springs, Mount Hood, Mount Ranier, and of course, the Mount Mansfield Ski Club! The back-and- forth letter writing in those days took a while since it went by ship. Eventually Sepp was able to strike an agreement with Frank Griffin and the MMSC. Griffin had been able to line up coaching jobs with UVM and Norwich to sweeten the deal. It took another length of time to obtain a U.S. visa. On December 4, 1936, Sepp Ruschp set sail for the United States. He would arrive in New York City on December 10th and be greeted by a contingent of New York MMSC members. He took the overnight train to arrive in Burlington on December 11, 1936 where Frank Griffin would meet him and bring Sepp to Stowe. And as they say, the rest is history!

There were a couple of responders to last week’s trivia question. John Thurgood looked up the answer in Pat Haslam’s “Ski Pioneers of Stowe, Vermont.”

Lyndall Heyer referenced Edwin Bigelow’s book, “Stowe Vermont A History of the Ski Capital of the East” including that the first official lift on Mt. Mansfield, a rope tow, was installed that same December. She also offered a story of how Sepp helped her father, Larry Heyer, get The Ski Inn off to a good start. “My father, who built The Ski Inn which he opened on Pearl Harbor day in 1941, was very thankful to Sepp for bringing down a handful of letters from skiers who had written him looking for a place to stay.”

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Trivia 2019 Week 15

When did Sepp Ruschp arrive in Stowe?

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Hannes Schneider

February 11, 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of Hannes Schneider arriving in North Conway, New Hampshire. In the early 1900s Schneider developed the Arlberg technique for teaching skiing. This allowed instructors to teach groups of skiers through a designated progression: snowplow, snowplow turn, stem turn, stem Christie, parallel Christie.

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 was 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.

Harvey Dow Gibson was originally from North Conway and had already started developing Cranmore as a ski resort. He brought Schneider to North Conway to head up the ski school. They arrived by train on February 11, 1939 to a welcoming crowd.

Hannes Schneider arrives in North Conway, New Hampshire. (Photo courtesy of North Conway Public Library)

Hannes Schneider arrives in North Conway, New Hampshire. (Photo courtesy of North Conway Public Library)

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!

Hannes Schneider earned the title of “father of modern skiing!” … at least in some circles! I should never use a trivia question based on one source without trying it out via the Internet! It turns out there are several “fathers of modern skiing!” There’s Sondre Norheim from the 1800s who the Sons of Norway consider the “father”. Chuck Perkins found that an Internet search yielded Emile Allais as the “father”. That last one makes some sense since Allais advocated a technique that skipped a lot of the Arlberg steps and introduced parallel earlier. In other words, Allais’ technique is closer to what is taught today in most ski schools.

The Schneider family remained committed to North Conway after Hannes death. His son, Herbert Schneider, took over as head of the ski school and eventually would be general manager of Cranmore. Herbert had served in the 10th Mountain Division training the troops in skiing and then being involved in combat during the Italian campaign where he won a Bronze Star.

Meisters CupAnd the Schneider name and family are still revered in North Conway. This weekend the New England Ski Museum will be hosting the 23rd Hannes Schneider Meister Cup Race at Cranmore (www.meistercup.org). The race draws over 200 skiers from kids to members of the 90+ club! But there’s so much more to the weekend than that. The weekend also honors the 10th Mountain Division, particularly any of the surviving veterans of the 10th. That number shrinks every year, sad to say. The color guard for the opening ceremony on Saturday morning will be from the Army Mountain Warfare School of Jericho. There’ll be special recognition of the 80th anniversary of Hannes’ arrival in North Conway and a plaque in memory of Herbert who died in 2012 will be unveiled. Undoubtedly some of Hannes’ grandchildren and their families will be in attendance. Oh, and there’s lots to eat and drink as part of the celebration!

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Trivia 2019 Week 14

Who is known as “the father of modern skiing?”

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Everett Bailey

Earlier this season I was writing an article for Vermont Ski and Ride magazine on the Vermont ties to the original 10th Mountain Division. In researching the Vermonters who served in the 10th, I came across a picture I had seen before. It was a picture of a skier circa 1940s on the deck of the Octagon waxing his skis. But I never knew who the person was until my 10th Mountain research.

Everett Bailey

Everett Bailey – Photo courtesy of Skyler Bailey

Everett C. Bailey was born in 1917 in Wells River, Vermont. He began skiing at the age of six on a pair of barrel staves! In 1928 the family moved to Burlington and Everett would graduate from Burlington High School. He went on to graduate from UVM where he co-captained the ski team. During his college years he joined the Sepp Ruschp Ski School in Stowe and became a certified ski instructor.

As a ROTC graduate, Bailey was called to active duty in the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thanks to his skiing credentials, Bailey was transferred to the 10th Mountain Division and became a Company commander. As an officer he looked out for his fellow Vermonters. During training he discovered that Clem Curtis of Stowe, who had been a ski instructor with Bailey, had been assigned to the snowshoe outfit. Bailey asked Clem why he was snowshoeing and Clem’s response was “this is where they put me!” Bailey quickly got Clem reassigned to Bailey’s skiing company.

The 10th Mountain Division is best known for its service in the Italian campaign. The Battle of Torbole in Italy was the last battle in the European theater of WWII. Bailey’s Company was part of the Battalion that successfully took Torbole from the Germans. The Battalion commander had received a minor injury in that action so Bailey became the acting commander just in time for the German counterattack. Bailey’s grandson Skyler Bailey is a historian who has chronicled the battle in his work “Reconstructing the Battle of Torbole: A Neglected Episode in the History of the 10th Mountain Division in World War Two.” Bailey’s Company and Battalion were in danger of being cut-off and overrun by the Germans. Bailey called for more support for the Battalion, but he was at headquarters rather than with his troops.  Bailey then worked his way through the battle to be back with his men as they fended off the counterattack and held Torbole. Bailey received the Silver Star for his actions at the Battle of Torbole.

The news that the counterattack had failed traveled through the German ranks quickly and they fled through the alpine passes into Austria. When the 10th entered the village of Arco they found the Germans had left behind prisoners including two local girls who were scheduled to be executed for delivering unrationed bread to townspeople. In the 1990s Everett Bailey gave a talk on the Italian campaign at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont. One of the officers listening to his talk told the story of recently being in Italy training with the Alpini, the Italian mountain troops. One of the Alpini invited the officer to have dinner with his extended family in Arco. At the dinner, the matriarch of the family gave a long emotional speech in Italian. She had been one of the two girls liberated by the 10th Mountain Division in WWII.

Everett BaileyEverett Bailey returned to Burlington after WWII. One of his first jobs was selling ski wax and paint for Fritz Wiessner. In 1950 he began a 30 year career with E.B. & A.C. Whiting Company where he would become President and CEO. He also stayed involved with the US Army Reserves rising to the rank of Colonel. Bailey died in 2014 at the age of 96. He was truly a member of the “Greatest Generation!”

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Trivia 2019 Week 13

What organization’s motto is “Climb to Glory?”

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Flat Light

There were five of us traversing Ten Sleep Bowl at Jackson Hole in extreme flat light conditions. It’s a wide open expanse with nothing to use for reference points so we were going single file. We stopped to regather and then Ken Hildick said he’d take the lead. He started out and just disappeared! We slowly moved forward to find about a six foot cornice with Ken looking back up at us from the snow below.

We all have our favorite flat light stories or maybe I should say flat light horror stories. I remember Ken saying later, “you know that could have been fifty feet!” And he was right, flat light in unfamiliar terrain can be dangerous.

Flat light occurs when it’s snowing, when you’re skiing in fog or a cloud, when it’s overcast, or as George Feneis commented on my blog, anytime you ski at Stratton!

Flat light can make it difficult to tell up from down or see bumps that are literally under your skis. Often you can’t tell how fast you’re going including whether you’re stopped or not. Quite a few times in those conditions I’ve thought I had come to a stop, but was surprised to find I was still moving. It’s easy to get vertigo under these circumstances.

So what causes flat light? We know that it occurs when there’s no direct light source, but it must be more complicated than that? Blue light is the culprit.

The human eye breaks down the light it sees into three components: red, green, and blue. TVs traditionally followed this same model representing colors in RGB values. Blue light predominates in low light situations and it scatters easily, reflecting off everything equally so what we see all looks the same.

If only we could get rid of the blue light, maybe we could see better in flat light situations. And that’s the theory behind ski goggle lenses.

First we need to understand more about the way we perceive color. When we look at a red ball, we see the light reflected off that ball. Since it’s a red surface it only reflects red light and absorbs green and blue light. So if we could come up with a lens that could absorb blue light, but let red and green through, we might have something. What color do we get if we combine red and green? That’s right, it’s yellow! And that’s the reason most goggle lenses for flat light are yellow or orange.

I did receive a couple of answers from R. Rafael and George Feneis that correctly said yellow lenses provide better contrast on flat light days.

Next time you find yourself in flat light conditions take a moment to compare your vision with and without your goggles. Can you see the difference? I did this recently and could see a difference although I have to admit visibility still wasn’t good.

By the way, blue light is getting a lot of blame lately for more than flat light. It appears that our increased reliance on electronic media has increased the amount of blue light we’re exposed to and blue light can hasten macular degeneration. So there’s a market for glasses that can reduce the blue light and guess what color they are? Yup, they are orange!

Other than goggles what other tricks are there to deal with flat light? Trees are your friends! It’s amazing how some objects provide definition. And you don’t have to ski in the trees. Just skiing close to the edge of a trail can provide the definition you crave. When I was hosting I often coached people on flat light days to ski next to the trail edge. I would lead the way and while they always said they could see better, they’d go right back out to the middle of the trail!

I have bad news for RetroSkiers. As we age our vision degrades and this especially affects snow contrast sensitivity. Jon Weisberg, co-founder of SeniorsSkiing.com, wrote an article a few years back which highlighted cataracts as the primary cause of this. Cataracts become more common as we reach our 60s and 70s. Even having them treated doesn’t guarantee a return to our youthful vision. Macular degeneration and glaucoma also become more common although they affect the brain’s processing of the information more than direct vision. However we RetroSkiers generally have one more way to handle flat light, we can just go home and ski another day – the famous “one and done” approach!

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Trivia 2019 Week 12

Why is yellow a common choice for the color of goggle lenses?

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Aspen and Vail 1969

While Ruthie’s Run was one of the better known Aspen trails in 1969, there were a couple of other trails that I remember better. There was the Face of Bell, a steep treed slope. I stood at the top of that slope after a snowfall and wondered if I was good enough to ski it. Today that slope wouldn’t even cause me to pause, but back then it really got my heart rate up.

Stein EriksenAnother memorable trail was Spar Gulch, a broad gully that could act like a poor man’s half pipe. Many pictures of Stein Eriksen from that era showed him counter-rotated with his butt defying gravity on the inside of a turn. Some of those were taken in Spar Gulch. If you swooped from side to side on the trail, you could try to “ski like Stein!” Having said that, at the end of the ski day Spar Gulch was a busy route back to the village. Most of those skiers were not trying to ski like Stein so they were skiing down the bottom of the gully. That led to some close calls with those of us who were swooping from side to side!

Speaking of Stein Eriksen, we did ski a day at Snowmass where Stein was the ski school director. He had gone to Snowmass after his stint at Sugarbush. Snowmass was brand new in 1969 and not that spectacular from a skiing point of view. Today it’s the largest of the Aspen areas. But with Stein there, even the ski school line-up was a spectacle. The instructors in color-coded parkas based on the level they taught, lined up with military precision. Stein in his white parka and no hat oversaw the parsing of students into their respective classes. At the end of the day, Stein and a hand-picked set of instructors would gather on Sam’s Knob and anyone who wanted could join them for a run. That is, anyone who didn’t mind skiing fifty miles an hour, nonstop to the bottom! Even his instructors had trouble keeping up.

We also drove over to Vail for a day. Back in 2012 I wrote about that first experience at Vail. We had given a young fellow, Paul, a ride from the Denver airport to Vail where he worked at the Christiania Lodge and as a part time instructor. He invited us to come over on his day off and he’d show us around. I doubt he thought we’d ever show up, but we did! And he was a man of his word. He gave us a fantastic tour of Vail including the Back Bowls where there was still some powder left more than a day after it snowed! (That’s something you won’t find today!)

Today as you drive I-70 through the megalopolis that is the Vail/Beaver Creek area, it is difficult to picture Vail the way it was in 1969. We could actually drive on Bridge Street right up to the Christiania!

So why is Vail called Vail? I had received no answers as of my deadline for this week’s column. I was surprised to come across the derivation recently myself. The short answer would be that Vail is named after Vail Pass, but the long answer is far more intriguing. The pass got its name from Charles Vail who was the highway engineer that routed U.S. Route 6 through the pass in 1940. Of course that is now the route followed by I-70. Pete Seibert chose to adopt that name for the ski area he opened in 1962.

I found it interesting that the International collection of Vail Resorts is eponymous for a highway engineer!

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Trivia 2019 Week 11

Why is Vail called Vail?

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