By the mid-1930s, some of Schneider’s instructors even came to the United States and started their own “Arlberg” Ski Schools, including one in Sun Valley.   Alpine skiing’s popularity soared to such an extent by the mid-1930s  it was introduced as an event in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch, Germany.

In Dr. Arnold Franck’s 1931 film “White Ecstasy (The Ski Chase), amid the striking surroundings of St. Anton, Schneider and his instructors performed alpine touring and ski-jumping feat considered spectacular in both technique and ability even by today’s standards. “White Ecstasy” was the “extreme” skiing film of the 1930s.  It revealed the incredible alpine touring expertise of the world’s best skiers and helped to encourage a near infatuation with downhill skiing by a growing global public.

E.H. Harriman

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Unknown to most, Sun Valley played a pivotal role in the evolution of the world’s Downhill skiing.  While Sun Valley did not have the first ski school, nor did it have the first means by which to transport people up the slopes, it did have a pioneering ingenuity using both human and material resources that ski areas around the world would follow.  Before 1930, skiing in Europe was mainly confined to Nordic disciplines, which include cross-country skiing and ski jumping.

The process of skiing downhill (alpine skiing) was, with only a few minor exceptions, virtually nonexistent.  Not until Hannes Schneider and his “Arlberg Method” did the true development of alpine skiing transpire.  Schneider was born in Stuben, Austria, in 1890 and learned to ski when very young.  As his skiing progressed, Schneider traveled to St. Anton, Austria, to work for the Hotel Post as a ski instructor.


To Schneider, the genuine seduction of skiing was the downhill run.  His method of teaching revolutionized the ski turn by making the problem of excessive downhill speed manageable by taking the student through a systematic progression that starts with the snowplow and ends with a rotational parallel turn. Soon, alpine touring – walking up the slopes to ski down received worldwide recognition.  From the early 1920s to 1939, when Schneider was forced to leave St. Anton because of Nazi occupation, his Austrian instructors were in the forefront of alpine instruction and competition.




Austria’s Arlberg Paradise


he ski resort of St. Anton, as well as Schneider’s Arlberg method, would soon serve as a model for Europe’s popular destination ski resorts such as Kitzbuhel (Austria) and St. Moritz (Switzerland).  The lofty, precipitous, treeless, rolling hills of St. Anton, dotted with a few large hotels, ski chalets, and high-mountain bivouac huts, characterized almost everything anyone could want in a winter retreat.

Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain

What the beautiful slopes of St. Anton and other European destination resorts in the early 1930s lacked were ski lifts.   With the exception of the already existing railways of the Alps, which were considered useless by most skiers, a 1927 aerial tram built in Switzerland, which was used primarily for summer tourists, and a 1928 surface ski lift in Chamonix, France, downhill skiing in the early 1930s was for the most part accomplished with alpine touring methods of walking or skiing up the slopes and skiing down.

It was in this environment of spectacular alpine destination ski resorts, Hannes Schneider alpine touring ski schools, and few ski lifts that the beginnings of an American destination ski resort occurred.  It occurred in the mind of one of the greatest visionaries of our time.  A man John F. Kennedy once spoke of as “holding more important positions, and transcending more pivotal epics of world events than any other figure in U.S. History.”  Averell Harriman was born in 1891 and when he died in 1986 at the age of ninety-four, his life, more than any other individual in U.S. history, can be seen as a metaphor for the history of America in the twentieth century.  The son of E.H. Harriman, railroad Barron, financial tycoon and one of the richest and most vilified men in America, Averell was the successor to a fortune estimated at $100 million dollars.

Count discovering Sun Valley

Sun Valley’s Alps

However, aside from and in addition to his fortuitousness and his privileged aristocratic genesis, Averell was quite a remarkable figure.  From a business perspective, Averell was an international banker, early aviation pioneer, railroad executive and assembler of America’s largest merchant fleet, as well as one of the first Westerner to do business on a major scale in the Soviet Union.  Politically Harriman was governor of New York and twice unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate.  He served as an advisor to every Democratic president from Franklin Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter.  On the Diplomatic side, Harriman, during World War II, served as Washington’s Lend-Lease administrator in London and ambassador to Moscow.  During the Vietnam conflict, he negotiated the neutralization of Laos, concluded a nuclear test ban treaty with Moscow, and was chief of the American delegation seeking peace with North Vietnam.

One might argue with so many accomplishments to his credit, Harriman’s development of Sun Valley is only a minor matter.  But Harriman had a vision as well as immense ambition and would settle for nothing but the best.  As a result when his ambitions were turned toward the creation of a destination ski resort in the American West, such a place would likely be at the forefront of the world skiing culture.


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By Basil Service