Baldy’s River Run Side Prior to Chair-lifts

Skiing Sun Valley’s Lower College

Bald Mountain. 

Teaching the Arlberg technique. 

Harriman with Gretchen Fraser on Baldy.

Otto Lang Skiing Dollar

Bald Mountain Chair-lift

Pfeifer and Litchfield in Aspen Colorado.

Hans Hauser skiing in Sun Valley Serenade

Hans Hauser

Gretchen Fraser

The Developer of Las Vegas, Bugsy Seigel




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 As ski school director, Pfeifer had ambitions that rivaled those of Harriman.  Under his direction Sun Valley’s ski school grew, in just one year, from nine instructors to over 100, making it the largest ski school the United States and possibly the world.  Pfeifer was also instrumental in the development of the over 3,000 vertical foot grandeur of Bald Mountain.  In Europe, according to Pfeifer, ski lifts would only go half-way up the mountains.  With Baldy, Pfeifer wanted to go to the top.  In the summer of 1939, Union Pacific Engineers, under the direction of Harriman and Pfeifer, constructed three chairlifts which, in an indirect fashion, scaled the 3,400 foot frame of Bald Mountain’s River Run side.




Pfeifer engineered the plans where the new runs would be cut, and in the winter of 1939-40 the world was introduced to a lift-served giant which would soon pioneer “alpine skiing” into a new realm of vertical proportions found only on mountains skied with “alpine touring” methods.  Pfeifer’s inventive ideas didn’t stop there, however.  With such an unprecedented lift-served colossus at his disposal, innovations in Schneider’s “Arlberg” technique were also introduced into Sun Valley’s teaching sequence accelerating the learning process by shortening the phases between progressions.  Such changes in Sun Valley’s teaching philosophies were necessary to keep pace with the technology of Baldy’s new lifts.

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 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 reigns 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. 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.



Sun Valley’s “alpine” skiing Austrians served the U.S. army well.  Pfeifer joined the 10th mountain division as a technical adviser on winter warfare and trained at camp hale.  While at Camp Hale, Pfeifer would travel to Aspen on weekends to explore their picturesque peaks.  As the war neared its conclusion, Pfeifer was sent to Italy where, with only two weeks prior to a German surrender, was wounded on Mount Belvedere.  Losing a lung, Pfeifer’s recuperation was slow; however, in October of 1946 he was finally released from duty.  Pfeifer would return to Sun Valley to initiate the start of their school in 1946, however, his ambitions now turned towards the development of Aspen.  Pfeifer would, for a short period, direct the schools of both Aspen and Sun Valley, however, the winter of 1947-48 saw his departure for good from the valley of the sun.  Pfeifer would direct and develop the mountains surrounding Aspen for nearly 20 years.

Sigi Engl and Sepp Froehlich both enlisted in the 10th mountain division also where their skiing skills, like those of their fellow Sun Valley ski school proletarians, were utilized to train the troops.  Engl spent the final years of the war in Italy while Froehlich concluded his tour-of-duty in the Pacific.  In 1946, after being used by the U.S. Navy as a rehabilitation facility for nearly four years, Sun Valley was officially decommissioned.  In December of 1946, Sun Valley reopened for the 1946-47 winter where Otto Lang and for a brief period, Friedl Pfeifer reassumed control of the ski school.  Otto Lang grew up in a little town near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia which was, prior to World War I, part of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire.


Lang’s family fled to Salzburg, Austria upon the outbreak of the First World War, where he learned to ski with boyhood friends Hans and Max Hauser.  After graduating from High School, Lang acquired a ski instruction position in the little resort of Semmering, located just outside of Vienna, and later achieved his ultimate goal when, in 1929, he became a certified instructor on Hannes Schneider’s ski school in St. Anton.  In 1935 Lang brought Schneider’s “Arlberg” technique to Sugar Hill, New Hampshire and in 1936 opened a ski school on Mount Rainier, Washington where he taught skiing greats such as Gretchen Fraser and influential millionaires such as Nelson Rockefeller.   It was at Mount Rainier also where Lang was first introduced to the world of filmmaking as he assisted in the production of a short ski movie entitled “Thin Ice.”  In the winter of 1938, Lang arrived on the slopes of Sun Valley, as Nelson Rockefeller’s personal instructor, and in 1939, was offered the position of assistant ski school director by his “Hannes Schneider Colleague” Friedl Pfeifer.  Lang’s pre-World War II years at Sun Valley were very prosperous in both the fields of instruction and film.


Having two of Hannes Schneider’s best instructors on one school was an unprecedented accomplishment of both luck as well as ambitious fortitude on the part of Harriman’s hiring practices, and as a result, Sun Valley’s ski school rapidly became the learning center of world “alpine” skiing.  But unlike Schneider’s “Arlberg Technique,” where “alpine touring” fundamentals were necessary to transport skiers uphill, Lang and Pfeifer were Renaissance men of a new skiing era where technological advances of moving up the slopes required biomechanical advances of coming down.  Lang’s as well as Pfeifer’s adjustments to Sun Valley’s “Arlberg” teaching sequence worked effectively to meet these advances.  In the field of cinema, Lang’s big break came when he was invited to film the skiing expertise of both Hans Hauser, who doubled for John Pain and Gretchen Fraser, who doubled for Sonja Henie, in “Sun Valley Serenade.”  Lang’s skillful direction of skiing, in “Sun Valley Serenade” attracted the attention of film producer Darryl Zanick, who, during the Second World War, was in charge of productions for the Army’s Signal Corps.

As a result, during World War II, Lang was commissioned to make a number of training films designed to lure recruits to the skiing 10th Mountain Division’s ranks.  After the war, Lang returned to Sun Valley, as ski school director, and was soon followed by numerous 10th Mountain Division veterans who took over where they left off. Some notable 10th Mountain Division “alpine” ski school returnees were as follows:  Sigi Engl, Sepp Froehlich and John Litchfield.  Hans Hauser would also return, and engage the heart of a mysterious woman whose connections to the mob may have directly or indirectly resulted in the death of Sun Valley’s first ski school director.