Copyright © IDAHOOUTDOOR.NET All Rights Reserved.

Without question, Sun Valley’s role in the developments of World Alpine Skiing is unprecedented.  Promoting Sun Valley’s move into the history books were a worldly collection of extraordinary individuals whose incredibly ambitious natures, as well as intriguing lifestyles, funneled to the Wood River Valley’s snow-covered Alps.  Sun Valley’s strong Austrian heritage has stood the test of time with phenomenal successes as its mountains became, in many instances, the primary proving grounds for what worked and what didn’t. 



In 1892, Mathias Zdarsky of Lilienfeld Austria founded the first alpine ski school in Europe and possibly the world.   Credited with writing the first illustrated ski manual, "Lilienfeld Schulauf Technik" and the first treatise on avalanches, Zdarsky is sometimes acknowledged as being the father of Alpine Skiing.  A very stern military disciplinarian, Zdarsky would instruct skiing until the age of 72 and in his later years even survives an infliction of over 80 fractures to his body by an avalanche.  Zdarsky's "Lilienfeld technique" was supported on the premise that if the tail of one ski were extended out at an angle to the fall-line of a slope, one could slow down, steer and even control that sometimes "death defying" dash to the valley below.  Speed control and navigation was also aided by the use of a single long pole, which was drug on the snow between the skier's legs or on the side like a canoe, while a low crouch assisted balance.  Skies used during Zdarsky's early years were of Norwegian origin, very long, made of wood and had no metal edges to hold the snow.  They attached to the feet normally by a toe strap which allowed the heel to lift from the ski.  The primary method of travel was confined to cross county travel with only a few semi-controlled downhill dashes, which were only for the most daring of alpine enthusiast.

I am a third generation Idaho Native and Graduate of Pocatello’s Idaho State University with degrees in Business and History.  I am a 35 year Fully Certified (Level III) member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America, 24 year Member of the Sun Valley, Idaho Ski School and present day adaptive Ski Teacher. I have skied off of more than 100 Idaho Peaks, and have skied nearly every major ski resort in the States and in the following countries, New Zealand, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Canada.  I have contributed to the following Publications:  Idaho Yesterdays-Journal of Idaho and Northwest History, Sun Valley Magazine (On three separate occasions), Rock and Ice Magazine, Exploring Idaho’s Mountains (Tom Lopez Author) Idaho a Climbing Guide (Tom Lopez Author), Nordic West Magazine, Sun Valley / An Extraordinary History (Wendolyn Spence Holland Author), Second Chances, (Elise Lufkin Author), Twin Falls Times-News, Fur Fish and Game Magazine, Rocky Mountain Game and Fish Magazine, Instructors Edge, Washington Fishing Holes Magazine and Idaho Magazine. My Photography as appeared on the covers of two Magazines.


This history is a culmination of 30 years’ worth of journeys thru Alpine Skiing’s most historic regions and interviews with some of Alpine Skiing’s most historic individuals.   Interviews with ski-legions, Friedl Pfeifer, Austrian Ski Pioneer and Sun Valley’s 2nd Ski School Director, Otto Lang, Austrian Ski Pioneer and Sun Valley’s 3rd Ski School Director, Andy Hennig, Author and Sun Valley Alpine Touring Pioneer, Alf Engen, Utah and Sun Valley Ski Pioneer, Dick Durrance, American Ski Pioneer and first American Ski Champion to compete successfully with the Europeans, Willie Hemling, Sun Valley Instructor and World War II 10th Mountain Division Veteran, Leif Odmark, Sun Valley Nordic and Alpine Skiing Pioneer,  Toni Sailer, One of Austria’s greatest Ski Champions and winner of Sun Valley’s Harriman Cup, Konrad Staudinger, 50 Year Member of Sun Valley’s Ski School-Assistant Ski School Director and Rainer Kolb, Sun Valley’s 8th Ski School Director and Austrian Ski Instruction Pioneer to name just a few.

The beginning of this Sun Valley Alpine Skiing History truly originated on the slopes of Austria’s Arlberg Region in the quaint Alpine Village of San Anton. 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.

So popular did Alpine Skiing become that it was suggested as an Alpine Event in the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid New York. 

Austria’s alpine ski team at this time included Rudi Matt (Sun Valley assistant ski school director in 1952), Hans Hauser (Sun Valley’s Ski School director 1936 thru 1938), Friedl Pfeifer (Sun Valley Ski School director 1938 thru 1947), Sigi Engl (Sun Valley Ski School Director 1953 thru 1972), Toni Seelso, Willi Walch, Leo Gasperel and Gezzi Lantschner. However the 1932 Olympic Committee, which was still strongly governed by Nordic influences, managed to constrict the skiing events to Cross-Country Skiing, Nordic Combined, and Ski Jumping.

By the mid-1930s, some of Schneider’s instructors even came to the United States and started their own “Arlberg” ski schools, including Sun Valley’s.  Sun Valley’s Otto Lang would start the first official Hannes Schneider Ski School on the Slopes of Mount Rainier, Washington. Alpine skiing’s popularity soared to such an extent by the mid-1930s that 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 feats that would be 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. Dr. Arnold Franck became the inspiration to such American ski film pioneers as Dick Barrymore and Warren Miller who all acquired their beginning on the slopes of Sun Valley.  Sun Valley 3rd Ski School Director, Otto Lang would also follow Franck’s Lead.




Being the first Olympics to recognize alpine skiing as an event, the Garmisch Games aided in propagandizing Hitler's influence of Germany's rising dominance in world affairs.  To ensure their command of the alpine skiing events a prohibition was placed, by the German-dominated International Olympic Committee, on ski instructors who were declared professionals.  In reaction to this news, the Austrian government declared a boycott of the 1936 Winter Games taking stars such as Pfeifer, Matt, Engl, Hauser and Seelos out of the competition.  However, the popularity of Seelos was immense and as a result, he was selected as a non-participating slalom forerunner.

Gracefully paralleling through a meandering slow course, tailored to German competitors, Seelos set a time 5 seconds faster than Germany's Franz Pfnur who won the Gold Medal using Arlberg Stem turns.  While the Germans, to no one’s surprise, dominated the games winning eight out of twelve alpine events, the French managed to attain a Bronze with their new skiing sensation and apprentice of Seelos, Emile Allais. Allais’s exceptional alpine skiing skills garnered from Seelos’s coaching expertise would progress an alternative to Schneider’s Arlberg method at the termination of the Second World War.  Seelos would coach the 1936 US Men’s Alpine team as well train extensively on the Slopes of St Anton with Sun Valley’s Friedl Pfeifer.

 It was in this environment of spectacular alpine destination ski resorts, Hannes Schneider’s 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.”

However, aside from and in addition to his fortuitousness and his privileged aristocratic genesis, Averell Harriman 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 Westerners to do business on a major scale in the Soviet Union.  Politically, Harriman was governor of New York and twice an 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 vision as well as immense ambition and would settle for nothing but the best; so 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. Harriman’s preoccupation with skiing developed as a result of his travels in Europe, as an international banker during the late 1920s/early 1930s, where he discovered the boundless popularity of their destination ski resorts.  While in Europe, Harriman noticed his banker friends would take their vacations during the winter months at ski resorts in Austria and Switzerland.  Upon returning to the United States, and after becoming Union Pacific Railroad’s Chairman of the board, Harriman quickly contemplated ways in which to enhance Union Pacific’s standing amongst its competitors.

 With the Santa Fe Railroad to the south, publicizing their winter travel through the sun, and the Canadian Pacific to the North, publicizing their beautiful Banff and Lake Louise runs, the Union Pacific lay sandwiched with no stars in their portfolio.  Remembering the popularity of Europe’s destination ski resorts, Harriman theorized if such notoriety might be possible in the west.  Having worked out west in 1909 with a Union Pacific surveying crew in the regions of Island Park and Victor Idaho, Harriman had a direct knowledge of the beautiful mountains the West possessed.  Convinced of the promise this idea held, Harriman set out on a crusade to discover an American ski resort that would rival or surpass anything in Europe.

After an exhaustive search thru most of the American West’s most beautiful mountainous regions, Harriman with the aid of an Austrian acquaintance, Count Felix Schaffgotsch, choose a remote mountain valley in Central Idaho as their American alternative to Austria’s St. Anton and Switzerland’s St. Moritz.

 Harriman, upon approval from Union Pacific’s Board of Directors, went to work building an American St. Anton.  A Million Dollar Lodge and Alpine Village named Sun Valley soon emerged, however in 1936, ski transportation up the mountains in the United States and Europe was a rarity, aside from an occasional rope-tow, J-Bar found or Arial Tram used mostly for summer transportation, the primary manner by which people traveled up the hillsides were by foot or on skis.  Like his million dollar lodge, Harriman was intent on building a skiing luxury in the Idaho wilderness that would rival or surpass anything which Europe had to offer and ski lifts could defiantly compliment that theme.

Several different methods of uphill transportation were considered, however, it was a concept developed by a young Union Pacific engineer named Jim Curran which caught both Proctor’s and Harriman’s eyes.  In the summer of 1936, chairlifts were rapidly located on both Proctor and Dollar mountains with a chair-lift, the following summer, being placed on the ski jumping Hill of Ruud Mountain.  At the time, few could envision the permanent consequences the Chair-lift would have on alpine skiing as well as alpine skiing instruction.



To compliment Harriman’s ostentatious lifts a ski school would soon be hired, but not just any ski school, an Austrian school knowledgeable in Hannes Schneider’s world renowned “Arlberg Technique.”  Fleeing a Europe rapidly being dominated by Adolph Hitler's Nazi aggressions, many of Europe’s, and most importantly Austria’s most prominent Alpine Skiers escaped to the United States.  By 1939, Europe’s entire destination ski resorts closed as the Second World War rapidly took flight.  Famous European Alpine Skiing legions landing on the slopes of Sun Valley are as follows:  Hans Hauser, Sun Valley’s 1st Ski School Director, Friedle Pfeifer, Sigi Engl, Toni Matt, Rudi Matt, Fred Iselin, Otto Lang, Andy Hennig, Florian Haemmerle, Sep Froehlich and Victor Gottschalk.  Europe’s loss was Harriman’s gain as he managed to attract most of this “run-away” talent to Sun Valley’s slopes.  So much so that by 1939, Sun Valley, Idaho soon became the world’s alternative for an “Arlberg” Ski Lesson.

Harriman’s attention to details left few gaps.  In his ambitions to make Sun Valley mimic Europe’s finest, the popular sport of “Alpine Touring” was introduced, in the summers of 1937-1940 as High Mountain hostels were constructed in the neighboring Pioneer and Smoky mountains.  Locations for said hostels were chosen by Alf Engen (Utah Wasatch Mountain Guide) and Charles Proctor (Early day Eastern Ski Pioneer). True to Harriman’s theme of innovating pioneering ingenuity, Sun Valley’s “alpine touring” ski school soon developed its own unique nativity in American skiing history as Alpine Touring Specialist Andy Hennig and Florian Haemmerle were added to the ski school. These “alpine touring’ beginnings initiated their presence during the winter of 1936/37, in America’s first international alpine competition, Sun Valley’s Harriman Cup.  Like Sun Valley’s prominent European predecessors, which promoted their resorts with world class “alpine” ski races, Harriman quickly followed suit with a race of his own. The Harriman Cup, which in March of 1937, instantly drew the world’s best skiers to the slopes of Sun Valley, was first run on an unnamed peak located in the Boulder Mountains just north of the present day Sawtooth National Recreation Building.  This non-lift serviced site was chosen over the lift-served mountains of Proctor and Dollar due to the necessary vertical needed to run a Europe style downhill alpine race.  (Baldy was yet to be developed)

To reach the race’s beginning, the competitors had to either ski or walk up the snow covered slope.  Sun Valley’s first ski school director, Hans Hauser was heavily favored to win the competition, however when the final times were calculated, former Dartmouth ski team member, Dick Durrance emerged victoriously.  (Durrance won the Harriman cup two more times in 1938 and 1940 and was the first racer to retire the cup. In the winter of 1938, the mountain whose slopes hosted the first Harriman Cup was named for Durrance).   However, distend to take the reigns as Sun Valley’s 2nd Ski School Director, Hannes Schneider’s top Instructor soon arrived on the scene, Friedle Pfeifer.

During his 10 years as an instructor at St. Anton, Pfeifer became one of Schneider’s top instructors as well as one of the best racers in Europe.  Three times in the late 1930s 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.  However, like his mentor Hannes Schneider, Pfeifer fled Austria in 1938, one week after the Anschluss (German annexation of Austria), to avoid being inducted into the German army and arrived in Sun Valley that same year, via Australia.  Upon his arrival, Pfeifer coached the U.S. Woman’s Olympic ski team and represented the new resort as a racer.  In the fall of 1939, upon the request of Harriman, Pfeifer assumed control of Sun Valley’s “alpine” ski school.

 Sun Valley would continue as the world’s alternative to an alpine skiing vacation till the winter of 1942, as it slopes and facilities converted into a naval rehab center for the Second World War.  Nearly all of Sun Valley’s skiing talent joined the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division as instructors and guides.  While most voluntarily joined the U.S. Armed Forces, Sun Valley’s more verbal Austrians had an additional forceful induction.

 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 being possible Nazi informants were Friedl Pfeifer, Hans Hauser, and 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. Pfeifer and Froehlich joined the army’s skiing 10th mountain division while Hauser, who fared the worst, choose internment.

 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.

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

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.

White Ecstasy

Hannes Schneider

Emile Allais

















St Anton, Austria

Sun Valley’s Alps

Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain / Viewed From Lake Creek Ridge, Boulder Mountains



Toni Matt





Rudi Matt





Pioneer Cabin 1948

Pioneer Cabin 1996

Schneider and Pfeifer   in Sun valley



Sun Valley’s 1946 Ski School

Emile Allais

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 1920’s to 1939, when Schneider was forced to leave St. Anton due to Nazi occupation, his Austrian instructors were in the forefront of alpine instruction and competition.  His principles rapidly spread to nearly every Ski School and Ski resort in Austria as well as Europe which all quickly evolved Hannes Schneider Ski Schools of their own.


Count Discovering Sun Valley