Virginia Hill

A murdered Bugsy Siegel

1950 Sun Valley Ski School

Tuckerman’s Ravine

Toni Matt

Emile Allais skiing with Otto Lang

John Litchfield

Jack Reddish, Stein Erikson, Sigi Engl and Christian Pravda

Sigi Engl and Groucho Marx

 Upon arriving in Sun Valley on January of 1950, Virgina Hill’s affiliation with the mob as well as legendary mobster Bugsy Seigel, who was found murdered in Hill’s home just a few years prior, rapidly became common knowledge among Sun Valley’s many employees who were often the benefactors of her generous 100 dollar tips.  It was rumored that every week Hill would receive one shoe box filled with 100 dollar bills, presumably as hush money to maintain her silence of underworld figures.  With such a dependable means of affluence at her disposal, hiring a ski instructor was no problem and soon the exclusive services of Hans Hauser were acquired. Hauser followed Hill to Colorado where on February 24, 1950, they were married.  In November of 1950 Virginia gave birth to their son Peter, however, the marriage would soon sour and a divorce ensued.




Hauser eventually, in 1966, acquired a job managing a casino in his hometown of Salzburg where his brother Max invited him and his ex-wife, Hill to dinner.  After dinner, Hill wanted to walk home alone.  Her body was found the next morning; cause of death, poison, and suspected suicide.  In 1974, Hauser’s body was found, also an apparent suicide hanging.  Rainer Kolb, Sun Valley ski school director from the mid-1970s thru the late 90s, spoke with Max Hauser several years later.  Max made the peculiar observation that both Hill and Hans had identical smiles on their faces when their bodies were found.

Lang continued as Sun Valley’s ski school director thru 1950 where his pragmatic approach to innovative concepts moved America “alpine” instruction to even higher levels.  Lang hired Austrian downhill champion Toni Matt (Famous for his 1939 schuss down the headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington) and French World Champion Emile Allais, whose revolutionary skiing methods would circumvent the snowplow to stem to rotation Austrian system and lead people directly into parallel.  Allais’s alternative to the “Arlberg” system alleviated the need of upper-body rotation to initiate the turn; however, many of the fundamentals in Schneider’s techniques still ruled supreme and upon Allais’s departure, only minor changes to Lang’s “Arlberg” teaching sequences were noted.

Lang was a true legend when it came to American ski instruction, publishing two books on the subject, but soon his passions turned to film and a career in Hollywood’s movie industry.  John Litchfield assumed control of the ski school the winter of 1950-51.  Being the first non-Austrian to head Sun Valley’s ski school, which by now was bathed in a tradition of attracting the World’s best skiers to its ranks, was a tall order to fill; however, in his short reign as director he served that legacy well.


 Litchfield grew up in Auburn, Main and later joined the Dartmouth ski team where he competed with Dick Durrance and was a pupil of Walter Prager (Swiss skiing Champion in the 1930s).  His first visit to Sun Valley occurred in 1937, in an intercollegiate ski competition between Dartmouth and the University of Washington which, coincidentally, happened to be coached by Otto Lang at that time.  Litchfield was overwhelmed with Sun Valley’s treeless slopes and returned in 1939 to cut ski trails under Friedl Pfeifer’s guidance.  Litchfield became a Sun Valley ski school member the winter of 1939-40, instructing celebrities such as Gary Cooper and Van Johnson, until the outbreak of the Second World War resulted in his volunteering for the 10th Mountain Division.

 Litchfield trained at Camp Hale with fellow Sun Valley/Ketchum residence and ski school colleagues, Florian Haemmerle, Fritz Earle, Sepp Froehlich, Sigi Engl and Ted Handwerk.  Litchfield encountered combat during the 10th Mountain’s Italian campaign but managed to endure the war uninjured.  Upon his return to the states, Litchfield traveled to Colorado where, for three years, assisted Friedl Pfeifer with his creation of an infant Aspen.  1948 found Litchfield back on Sun Valley’s ski school, as Otto Lang’s head instructor, and upon Lang’s departure, became Sun Valley’s first American born ski school director.  As director, Litchfield was a good administrator and charismatic leader, however, his greatest accomplishments were revealed through his hiring practices.  1952 Olympic medalist Stein Eriksen, from Norway and Christian Pravda, from Austria both, almost immediately upon winning their emblems, became a member of the Sun Valley ski school.

Litchfield’s goal as director was to maintain an international flavor with a high degree of skiing excellence which on both accounts, he succeeded significantly.  In 1953, upon the outbreak of the Korean War, Litchfield returned to service with the U.S. army whereupon another of Austria’s international skiing champion claimed the title of Sun Valley Ski School director.  Sigi Engl, from Kitzbuhel, ruled Sun Valley’s school for the next quarter century pioneering yet another epoch of “alpine” skiing superiority in instructional ingenuity.

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.  As a result, in the embattled carnage on the teaching slopes, Austria’s Hannes Schneider, Professor Kruckenhauser and their decuples have won.  While the extremes in their techniques have been modified, to a certain extent, with advancements in equipment, ski slope grooming and uphill transportation, the fundamental essentials of their theories are still central to most of the world’s ski schools. This provides a primary organizational structure of a ski school headed by a director, whose main path for learning takes the student from the snowplow thru the stem turn to the most advanced curriculums of parallel skiing.  Even in the disciplines of “Freestyle Skiing” Sun Valley Pioneered the way, however as history has taught us, the eyes of the world predominantly followed the ski racer, and in this venue of alpine skiing, Sun Valley’s contributions have been no less than spectacular.  



With the possible exceptions of Kitzbuhel and St. Anton, Austria, more Alpine Skiing Olympic Medal Champions have made their home in Sun Valley, Idaho, at one time or another, than any other ski resort in the world; transcending a period from 1936, when the first Alpine Skiing Medals were awarded, to today.   Emile Allais triumphed Olympic Bronze in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Games in 1936.  In the 1948 St. Moritz, Switzerland Games, Sun Valley’s Gretchen Fraser secured America’s first Alpine Olympic Medals with a gold in the in the Woman’s slalom and a silver in the combined. The 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, Norway would see three Olympic Champions with Sun Valley ties gain Olympic Medals.  From the United States Andrea Mead, incredibly acquired gold in both the Woman’s Slalom and Giant Slalom events as Stein Eriksen from Norway and Christian Pravda, from Austria dominated the men’s events taking 4 of the 9 medals awarded.  At the 1972 Sapporo, Japan Games and the 1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia Games, Sun Valley natives Susan Corrock and Christine Cooper took bronze and silver, while yet another Sun Valley local, Picabo Street, secured silver in the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway games and gold in the 1998 Nagano, Japan Games.


Stein Erikson

Toni Sailer






It was also on the slope of Sun Valley that the divisions between the sports of Alpine Skiing (riding a lift up a slope to ski down) and Alpine Touring (walking or skiing up a slope to ski down) transpired.  Prior to 1936 and the invention of the chair-lift, nearly all downhill skiing was accomplished with Alpine Touring techniques.  As chair-lifts were constructed on Proctor and Dollar Mountains in 1936 and on Bald Mountain in 1939, the sport of Alpine Touring began its rapid decline while Alpine Skiing soon became the primary means to accomplish a downhill run on skis.  Sun Valley’s Ski School accommodated this unique occurrence in Alpine Skiing History, not as a follower but as a leader by changing its curriculums towards the American inpatients of learning to ski in the shortest time possible.  While prior to 1952, Sun Valley Company hosted both disciplines with separate Alpine Skiing and Alpine Touring Schools, the technological advancements in uphill transportation soon won the day as Sun Valley officials discontinued the Alpine Touring School by the mid-1950s. 

While technical advancements in equipment and slope grooming have changed and improved considerably throughout the years, the biomechanical makeup of the human body has not.   As a result, such fundamental aspects relating to the human body’s balance while standing on a pair of skies has changed little.


While Sun Valley’s limelight in the history books may have occurred as circumstances of an era, as some might argue, exposed within the soles of its pioneering founders, an everlasting mountain endeared resourcefulness ensued which transcended these historic times in a uniqueness found only in Sun Valley. 

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