Hannes Schneider – Pioneer of the Arlberg Style

June 27, 2012 by  
Filed under features

Thanks to the popularity of skiing and other snow sports, the Alpine areas of Austria are among the wealthiest in the country, with excellent infrastructure, a high standard of living and a thriving economy. Prior to the invention of skiing these areas were poor and underdeveloped, and while the local population made use of boards and poles to navigate the snowy terrain, it was an arduous task undertaken out of necessity. As the concept of leisure skiing started to take hold at the turn of century, skiing clubs were formed, primarily in the Tyrol region. In 1907, Carl Schuler, the owner of a small guesthouse and inn in St Anton, realized that there was potential for developing skiing as a sport and as a means for attracting tourists to the area. So he hired a 17-year old skier as an instructor and started what has become a very popular activity – skiing for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

The young ski instructor, Hannes Schneider, went down in history for his contribution to the sport. He developed methods of instruction and styles of skiing to ensure that the sport had a high level of safety. Among the maneuvers he developed, were the schneepflug, or snowplough, and parallel turns, which are used all over the world where the sport is enjoyed. St Anton became the hub for snow skiing in Austria back then, and maintains that status today.

When World War I engulfed the world in conflict, Hannes Schneider turned to the serious task of teaching skiing techniques to soldiers, and the Gebirgsjäger, meaning ‘mountain rifles’, was established. The troops were trained to engage in combat in rugged Alpine terrain, in deep snow and at high altitudes. The troops Schneider trained successfully engaged in combat on the Russian front, and later in the war against Italy. At the end of WWI Schneider returned to St Anton and resumed his job as a ski instructor.

As the sport grew in popularity and more people flocked to Austria’s spectacular ski areas, Schneider trained others to become instructors. A documentary film, made by German filmmaker Arnold Frank in 1920, brought skiing to the attention of a wider audience and proved to be a huge boost for the burgeoning snow skiing industry. The film featured Hannes Schneider and detailed his teaching style. Schneider spent some time in the US demonstrating the sport by skiing down artificial slopes constructed out of wood and covered in ice flakes. His enthusiasm for promoting the sport soon caught on and snow skiing spread to various regions of North America.

When Austria merged with Nazi Germany in 1938, Schneider found himself at odds with Nazi ideologies. He was imprisoned and lost his job at the Arlberg Skiing School. However, intervention by a group of Americans and Schneider’s former students eventually resulted in his release, allowing him to leave Austria in 1939. He went to work as a ski instructor for Harvey Gibson, one of the Americans who had been instrumental in his release, at Gibson’s resort at Mount Cranmore in New Hampshire. Schneider continued to teach his techniques to countless students, with the Arlberg Style he developed still considered to be the foundation of modern skiing. Schneider never returned to Austria and passed away in 1955 in the United States.