The Man who put Austria on Skis - Part II
Hannes Schneider returned to his career as a ski instructor and continued to keep on developing his style. The skiing industry of Tyrol developed with him: Roads improved and cars joined the railway system to bring in more people eager to learn how to ski. Racing down the Alps was no longer viewed as a borderline-suicide, but gained a reputation as an actual sport. St Anton enjoyed the main bulk of the attention and established itself as the capital of skiing. From here, many students of Hannes Schneider who had turned into colleagues spread all over Tyrol and promoted the development and refinement of the sport even further.
The big move from skiing as a niche-sport to a mass-phenomenon that could make the Alpine economy eventually shoot through the roof came in 1920. The German filmmaker Arnold Frank made a documentary on skiing that featured Hannes Schneider and his teaching style. Despite of its peculiar name, a book called "Wunder des Schneeschuhs" ("Miracle of the snow shoe") following the documentary became a tremendous success. It helped to promote skiing and St Anton even further. Arnold Frank continued to shoot movies that featured skiing as a central theme, but moved away from documentaries.
He combined elements from adventure movies, love stories and moral tales to create a new genre highly popular in Germany. The most successful of the long line of movies that followed was "Der weiße Rausch" ("White Frenzy") shot in St Anton "Der weiße Rausch" with Nazi-heroine Leni Riefenstahl in 1931. Today, the town of St Anton commemorates this tradition in an annual film festival showing historic skiing movies alongside with contemporary films on skiing and Alpine sports in general.
Skiing goes International, Schneider flees Austria
Back to Hannes Schneider: In 1928, he co-founded the Arlberg-Kandahar ("Kandahar Cup") downhill skiing competition with Sir Arnold Lunn (an equally crazy Brit). The competition, alongside with a translation of "Wunder des Schneeschuhs" in 1931, helped to propagate skiing and alpine sports to the US and St Anton had finally grown into the legend it still is today. The interest of Americans in skiing also provided Hannes Schneider to go to the US for skiing displays in 1936. In public shows, he slid down artificial "hills" made of wood and ice flakes.
In 1938, the Anschluss merged Austria with Nazi Germany. On contrast to many other Alpine sportsmen (such as Heinrich Harrer), Hannes Schneider was not willing to align with the Nazis and serve their propaganda machinery. He was imprisoned soon after the Anschluss and lost his job as the chair of the Arlberg skiing school. In this situation, it paid back that skiing had become popular in the US during the years before 1938. Former students of Hannes Schneider had found employment in the States and the Arlberg skiing school had something like franchising branches in several places in the US.
A group of Americans and former students of Hannes Schneider intervened at high Nazi politicians. Among them was Harvey Gibson, who had built up a skiing resort at Mount Cranmore in New Hampshire. When Hannes Schneider was eventually allowed to leave the country in 1939, he started working as a ski instructor for Gibson. He found a new home on the slopes of the US and did not return to Austria.
He continued to teach skiing for many more years and influenced a whole generation of skiers that propagated the sport into the Rocky Mountains and other parts of the World. The Arlberg Style is still considered to be the basis of modern skiing. Hannes Schneider died in 1955. His skiing school was maintained by his son Herbert and his memory is still held up in St Anton, Kitzbühel and the rest of Austria.
Return to "Hannes Schneider - Part I"
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