Alpine Touring /Ski Mountaineering Ski History of Sun Valley

By Basil Service

The winter of 1938-39 would also see a change of leadership in Sun Valley’s “Lift-Served” school as Harriman engaged Hannes Schneider’s best ski instructors into its ranks.  Not stopping with the Austrians, Harriman would also engage the prescience of Switzerland’s best skier.  In his 10 years as an instructor at St. Anton, Friedl Pfeifer became one of Schneider’s top trainer as well as on the best racers in Europe.  Three times in the late 1930’s Pfeifer won the Grand prix de Paris and Gross Glockner championships and twice took honors in international races at Sestriere, Italy.  In 1936, he won the combined downhill-slalom title in the Arlberg-Kandahar as well as the Hahnenkamm Downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Pfeiffer even blended teaching occasionally with his tight racing schedule guiding prominent world figures as Hitler's assistant Rudolf Hess as well as Hollywood's leading lady, Claudette Colbert.  Pfeifer's gifts were further utilized when in 1933 he was summoned to train the Austrian Woman's Ski Team, which included talents such as Elli Stiller (Stiller in1948 will become Sun Valley, Idaho’s first female instructor).  Pfeifer fled Austria in 1937; one week after it was annexed by Germany, to avoid being inducted into the German army and arrived in Sun Valley that same year where he coached the women’s Olympic ski team.  In 1938, Pfeifer acquired the ski school director’s position and soon choose as his assistant director the world’s greatest instruction, Otto Lang.

Friedl Pfeifer

Hannes Schneider and Friedl Pfeifer


1929-30 Otto Lang took the exam required to become a government-licensed ski instructor and mountain guide.  Otto studied relentlessly and reported for the test in early November at the Mitterberg Alpe-am-Hochkonig, near Salzburg after the first snows of winter had fallen.  Unknown to Lang, Hannes Schneider had sent his number one instructor, Luggi Foger to the exam prospecting for future instructors.  Foger was given specific instructions to pay close attention to this "Otto Lang fellow."   Lang passed the exam and most importantly Foger's judgments and was called to duty with Schneider's School just prior to Christmas.  (Schneider took an immediate liking to Lang and for the rest of their lives they would remain close friends). Lang departed Austria the winter of 1935 and started America’s first official Arlberg ski-school on the slopes of Mount Rainer, during the winter of 1935.  Lang also accompanied Schneider to New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1934, demonstrating Alpine Skiing to an American public becoming ever thirstier for the sport.  In 1939, Lang joined the Sun Valley Ski School as its assistant director along with fellow Austrian Ski Champion for Kitzbuhel, Sigi Engl.

Otto Lang


Like many of his fellow Austrian’s Sigi fled inaugurations of Germany’s Austrian aggressions to the Yosemite Valley of California where he took over the reigns as Ski School director from Swiss Ski Great, Jules Fritsch in 1938.  Sigi, through his worldwide racing prominence, equally mirrored his Austrian predecessors, as one of the world’s greatest skiers.  However, during his 21 years as Sun Valley’s ski school director, he became the innovative principal in teaching the U.S. as well as the world how to ski.  For such unprecedented contributions Engl, in 1971, was inducted into the American Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, Michigan and in 1975 awarded, by the President of Austria, that country’s Gold Medal of honor for distinguished service to the sport of alpine skiing.  In 1975 Sun Valley Company, at the request of his longtime friend and teaching colleague Konrad Staudinger, honored him by re-naming “No-Name Bowl” on Mount Baldy to “Sigi’s Bowl.”  Engl passed away in 1982 at the age of 71, leaving a legacy equaling that of his friends Hannes Schneider, Friedl Pfeifer, and Otto Lang, as one of skiing’s greatest teaching-racing innovators.  His ashes were placed on the ski run which now bears name.  Not to leave the Swiss out of the picture, Fred Islein also joined the Pfeifer Ski School the winter of 1939.

Clearly establishing Sun Valley's ski school as one of the World's greatest, Pfeifer and Harriman drew an extremely successful 1938-39 ski season to a close with ambitious plans to develop the unrivaled vertical of Bald Mountain the following season.  Initially wanting to construct one money saving bottom to top lift, Union Pacific Engineers eventually deferred, with a little persuasion by Harriman, to Pfeifer's plans of building three separate steel lifts that scaled the 3,400 vertical foot River Run Side of Bald Mountain.  Also, in accordance with Pfeifer's specifications, a warming lodge was built at mid-mountain, christened the Roundhouse by Harriman, and new trails were cut by crews of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which Averell procured through his political ties with the Roosevelt Administration.

As Baldy developed the Alpine Touring School also thrived with the building of the Owl Creek Cabin below the prominent 10,400-foot summit of Silver Peak (Saviors Peak) in the Smoky Mountains north of Sun Valley.   The Owl Creek Cabin was even more lavish than its Pioneer Mountain predecessor and offered guests much easier access to backcountry skiing terrain.  The terrain behind the cabin was extensively explored by both Hennig and Gottschalk, with fairly easy access to the Galena Summit Road.  The cabin’s close proximity to the road also gave Hennig a quick leap over the pass to the mountains he truly wanted to develop, the Sawtooths.   However, the winds of war lay near and this, along with Sun Valley’s development were soon placed on hold.

Owl Creek Cabin

Ski Slopes of Silver Peak


 From 1939 to 1941, Pfeifer’s ski school thrived, attracting some of the best skiers in the world until the Second World War brought an immediate end to their historic endeavors.  However, unlike Haemmerle, Hennig and the “alpine touring” school, Pfeifer’s as well as some of his German speaking instructor’s, induction into the U.S. army took somewhat of a differing forceful twist.  In December of 1941, the FBI descended upon the little community of Sun Valley/Ketchum looking for German spies.  Upon the FBI’s departure, they didn’t leave empty-handed.  Arrested as possible Nazi informants were Friedl Pfeifer, Hans Hauser and a new Austrian addition to the school, Sepp Froehlich.

All three men were taken to Salt Lake City where they were interrogated.  Upon Pfeifer’s unscheduled departure as ski school director, another of Hannes Schneider’s top instructors, Otto Lang, took over the reins for a brief period until Sun Valley shut down for the war effort in 1942.  When it became clear that these three “outspoken members of Sun Valley’s ski school” posed no threat to the national defense, a choice was given to each.  They could either spend the war in service with the United States army or at an internment camp in North Dakota.  While in Salt Lake City with his new bride, instead of returning to Sun Valley, Pfeifer, along with Dick Durrance, aided in the development of Utah’s first ski resort, Alta.

Freidl Pfeifer

Sepp Froehlich

Hans Hauser

Pfeifer and Froehlich would eventually join the army’s skiing 10th mountain division while Hauser, who fared the worst, choose internment. Other prominent German-speaking members of Sun Valley’s ski school managed to escape the wrath of the FBI investigators for the following reasons:  Florian Haemmerle had his American citizenship thus granting him immunity, while Andy Hennig and Sigfried Engle (Sun Valley’s ski school director from 1952 to 1975) enlisted immediately upon America’s declaration of war.  Otto Lang had both a family, citizenship and was married to the daughter of an Admiral in the U.S. Navy.

During the war, Pfeifer was assigned to America’s 10th Mountain Division’s Reconnaissance Troops in Colorado where he, on several occasions, traveled to the small mining town of Aspen.  Falling instantly in love with the "St Anton likeness" of Aspen, Pfeifer vowed to return at the war's end.  Acting on that pledge, Pfeifer returned to the mountains of Colorado to organize and direct a newborn Aspen ski school.   With former Sun Valley instructor and 10th Mountain colleague John Litchfield and Percy Redeout, Aspen's slopes opened to the public during the 1945-46 winters with only limited success.  Nonetheless, the following winter Pfeifer saw his responsibilities increase exorbitantly as he not only directed Aspen's ski school but also took on the task of organizing Sun Valley's skiing operations, with co-director Otto Lang, for its post-war opening. Sun Valley quickly resumed its former status of skiing's forerunning authority as the majority of Pfeifer's instructors returned safely from the war.

America’s 10th Mountain Division’s Reconnaissance Troops

Adding to already unprecedented talent, Pfeifer hired Austria’s Ski Jumping Champion, Sep Froehlich Following the war, and upon Sun Valley’s reopening for business in December of 1946, Froehlich began his 34-year teaching career with Sun Valley’s Ski School.  He served as an instructor and assistant director under Friedl Pfeiffer, Otto Lang, Toni Matt, Rudi Matt, John Litchfield, Sigi Engle, Paul Ramlaw and Rainer Kolb until his retirement in 1981.  Froehlich would pass away just a few months prior to Engl, and like Engle, had a ski run on Sun Valley’s Dollar named after him.  While Engle and Froehlich often disagreed and at times and even disliked each other, both men symbolized an excellence, prestige, and original spirit towards the world of skiing that would never be equaled.

Pfeifer 1939 Ski School

Pfeifer and Islein in Aspen

Sigi and Sep


Andy Hennig, upon returning to Sun Valley after the war, quietly named several nearby peaks after his fallen 10th mountain comrades-in-arms. Prior to the war only three mountains visible from Pioneer cabin’s picturesque setting were named:  Cobb, Old Hyndman and Hyndman Peaks, while only Silver Peak above the Owl Creek Cabin was titled.  Behind Pioneer Cabin Hennig named the summits of Handwerk peak (named for Ted Handwerk who worked as a waiter in Sun Valley’s Ram Bar and was killed in Italy while serving with the 10th mountain division) and Duncan Ridge (Named after Captain Jonathan Duncan, former manager of the Sun Valley Lodge and killed in Italy while serving with the 10th) was named also.  Behind the Owl Creek Cabin Bromaghin Peak (named for Captain Ralph Bromaghin) was named. 1947 Haemmerle would return to the mountains of Sun Valley, in poorer health, and like Hennig, place names upon several Pioneer cabin summits also.  The crests of Salzburger Spitzel (named for Haemmerle’s Austrian friends from Salzburg: Max Hauser, Hans Hauser and Franz Epp, who Florian feuded with during his initial day’s at Sun Valley), Goat Mountain (named for the many Billys seen on its summit) and Florian Nudl (Haemmerle named this summit for himself) were named, and with the aid of Hennig and Gottschalk, ski routes etched down their frames.


As good times seem to resume to their pre-war levels, dissension to the Arlberg was again building in Europe's post-war ski resorts as the French, building on the pre-war racing dominance of Emile Allais, briskly formulated an alternative means. Ever since the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch, Germany, (the first Olympics to hold alpine ski events) when Austrian ski great, Toni Seelos and his talented French student, Emile Allais shocked the stem turning Arlberg world by dominating the alpine events using pure parallel turns, a great rift emerged between those who stemmed to initiate a ski turn and those who did not. Resulting from the Nazi's long-awaited surrender, Russian and American troops took over nearly all aspects of Germany's economic life while France occupied Austria and their ski resorts.  Briskly the French emerged as Europe's reckoning force on skies as they introduced changes to Schneider's Arlberg technique and ruled the re-activated European racing circuits.  From 1946 to 1948 Austria, who lost the majority of its skiing talent to the war and ski resorts in the States, could do little as a ski-crazed France replaced it as Europe's alpine skiing superior.  While France's new skiing techniques evolved, the school at St. Anton was merely a shadow of its Hannes Schneider golden years as Rudi Matt (Schneider’s head instructor) again tried to establish an Arlberg presence there.

Toni Seelos

Emile Allais

Rudi Matt and Schneider

But the domain of the Arlberg no longer rested in St Anton but rather migrated - with the instructional geniuses of Friedl Pfeifer, Otto Lang, Sigi Engl, Fred Islein and Andy Hennig - to the peaks of Sun Valley, Idaho.

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