Old ski instructors never die — they’re reuniting in Aspen for World Cup Finals
March 12, 2017
Everybody knows that European ski pros really don't need a reason to party, but the World Cup Finals provides extra incentive.
Longtime Aspen resident Hans Schwarz said he hopes to hook up with some former ski instructors he met when they were all part of the European invasion in the early 1960s.
Curt Chase welcomed European instructors when he took over the Aspen Mountain Ski School in 1964, said Schwarz, an Austrian who came to Medicine Bow, Montana, in 1960-61 to run the ski school. He ended up in Aspen in 1963, when skiing was enjoying a growth spurt and Chase needed expert teachers to meet demands. Instructors from all over Europe were recruited and Aspen Mountain became a melting pot.
"Everybody said, 'This is never going to work,'" Schwarz said. "Big surprise — everybody got along well. It was like a close-knit family."
He figured they got along because they were all in the same boat — making a go of it in a foreign country. There also was some degree of resentment of the newcomers among some of the old-time instructors, so that increased their bond.
Nearly every instructor had a nickname representing where they came from or a play off their name. Schwarz was known as Jonny Black for the English translation of his Austrian name.
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Ski racing was a big part of the instructors' routine. Many of them were racers back in their home countries. Schwarz, for example, raced on the Austrian Junior Development Team. The instructors would participate in ski school competitions and the plethora of masters' race events that used to exist.
A lot of the European ski instructors moved on after a few years. Among them was Viktor Weyand, who was born and raised in Austria. He was urged to come to teach at Boyne Mountain in Michigan while he was working at a hotel in St. Anton during the winter of 1959-60. He came to the U.S. the following season and visited Aspen in winter 1963.
"Hans saw me skiing and said, 'You must be Austrian,'" Weyand said. Schwartz introduced him to Chase and Weyand was hired as an instructor for the next season.
He taught in Aspen for only two seasons but had many memorable times. The Kennedy family was notorious for driving instructors crazy. Several children of all ages and abilities would get assigned to an instructor, Weyand said. The children "wouldn't listen" and would be all over the mountain, so Robert Kennedy would end up firing the instructors for not keeping a grip on the kids, according to Weyand.
Chase asked Weyand if he would take on the Kennedy kids. Weyand said only if he could talk to Mr. Kennedy first. Chase introduced them and Weyand politely explained that the problem was the children were out of control. Kennedy gave him a look like, "Who do you think you are?" but then gathered up the kids and said they couldn't ski for the rest of the vacation if they didn't listen to Weyand.
The Kennedy cousins were well behaved and Weyand received an invitation to dine with the family after a great day on the slopes.
Weyand, 75, also met his wife at the base of Aspen Mountain. They were married in 1967 and remain together after 50 years.
He left Aspen to take over a ski school back east. After he got married, he left skiing for the travel business for the next 40 years.
Weyand said he remained friends with many instructors and other people he met in Aspen, including Billie and Scooter LaCouter, Klaus Obermeyer and the late Sepp Kessler.
He was back skiing in Aspen late last week but had to leave Saturday for a previous engagement. He regretted that he would miss many of the former ski instructors and other friends from prior years. He knows of numerous Europeans who live in the U.S. that will make the trip for the World Cup Finals — and for the skiing.
"In my opinion, there's no better skiing in the world than March in Aspen," Weyand said.
But he admitted he wouldn't mind missing the crowds and craziness of the World Cup Finals.
Schwarz said a lot of the old gang of instructors took jobs at other resorts or returned to their native countries after a few seasons in the 1960s.
"It was hard for them to make a living here, so the core group faded away," he said.
Some of those who stayed went to work in the 1970s in Snowmass for Stein Eriksen, the Olympic gold medal winner from Norway and skiing icon in the U.S.
Schwarz went on to become the racing director at Aspen Highlands for 10 years and worked summers as a tennis pro. Schwarz, 77, continues to ski but no longer teaches.
He's expecting to see three longtime friends from his Aspen Mountain Ski School days during the World Cup Finals. Fritz Siegenthaler, who now lives in Lake Tahoe, and Willie Kindschi of Davos, Switzerland, made the trip while Rainer Rithaler was trying to find accommodations.
Meanwhile, Aspen ski industry icon Klaus Obermeyer said he expects to meet up with a lot of old friends during next week. Obermeyer taught at Aspen Mountain for 12 years starting in 1947 before focusing full-time on the ski wear company that bears his name. Obermeyer, 97, said he doesn't have specific plans for reunions, but anticipates running into friends everywhere during race week.
"Oh, yeah, there's always somebody," Obermeyer said.
Scooter LaCouter has taught every season on Aspen Mountain except one since 1965-66, so he's seen a lot of people come and go. He's going to be teaching throughout the World Cup Finals, so he expects to run into old friends on the slopes. He got together with Weyand for apres ski on Thursday. He said he looks forward to seeing former ski racer and Aspen resident Andy Mill as well as Anderl Molterer, "The White White Blitz from Kitz." Molterer, from Kitzbuhel, Austria, was one of the best skiers in the 1950s and guaranteed his place in history by winning the Hahnenkamm Race on his home slopes in 1953, 1955, 1958 and 1959. He owned a ski shop in Aspen.