The first skiers and the foundation of the Ski-Club Arlberg
How the Arlberg myth originated
In the winter of 1895, the parish priest of Lech tried his luck on skis. Benevolent onlookers smiled as he made his first inexpert descents, but they were soon convinced that there was something about this new pastime, and it probably had a future.
At the same time, Mathias Zdarsky developed the Lilienfeld skiing technique in Lower Austria. In contrast to the Norwegian way of skiing, his involved leaning forward, but also propagated the one-stock method. Slowly but surely, skiing was wending its stylish way into the Arlberg region.
First ascent of the Galzig
On December 10, 1899, Hermann Hartmann climbed Galzig on skis for the first time. In a little more than 3 ½ hours he reached the summit from St. Anton via St. Christoph – a very respectable time, even by today’s standards. Back in the Hospiz, Hartmann recorded the first winter ascent of Galzig in the guest book: ‘With snowshoes from St. Anton to St. Christoph in 1 ½ hours, from St. Christoph to the Galzigspitze, 2185 metres, in 2 hours 10 minutes, downhill in 18 minutes, snow height 0.68 to 1.60 metres - wonderful panoramic view.’ And that same wonderful view remains to this day...
Other skiing pioneers in the Arlberg were Professor Karl Gruber, Max Madlener, Josef Ostler, Hospiz host, Oswalt Trojer, and Viktor Sohm. And among the young locals, the summit stormers attracted attention, with some of them even attempting to make their own skis themselves.
Hannes Schneider was one of these young admires of this new craze, and he, too, made his first skis from the waste cuts of a sledge maker and a sieve that he nailed to his boards as a binding. He later said that he practised a lot with these home-made skis, but often until late on moonlit nights, as he wanted to avoid the ridicule of his schoolmates. On the occasion of the inauguration of the Ulmer Hütte, the 13-year-old received his first ‘real’ skis with a sea-tube binding from Professor Weiser, the chairman of the Ulm Alpine Club section.
Trip becomes the foundation of the Ski-Club Arlberg
Two years earlier, a group of friends had made skiing history in the Arlberg. On Christmas Eve 1900, after long discussions about skiing, they decided to go on a ski tour to St. Christoph. On January 3, 1901, the time had come. In bright weather and powder snow, they set off for St. Christoph, soon reaching the top of the pass – and ‘stuck’ with the Hospiz landlord.
By their own account, more wine than tea was drunk, and the evening wore on and on. The euphoria of their achievement, no doubt encouraged by their host’s generosity and the flowing wine, culminated in a historic guest book entry. Adolf Rybizka made the suggestion to found a ski club. The idea was accepted, and Rybizka wrote in the Hospiz’s guestbook: ‘Enchanted by nature, thrilled by sport, imbued with the necessity of creating a modest meeting point on the Arlberg for the friends of this noble pleasure, the excursionists involved in the ex tempore felt moved to found the Ski-Club Arlberg’. And so, the first après ski of the many millions more that followed in the Arlberg, brought about the first meeting of this most significant and historical ski associations.
On that same evening, Dr F. Gerstel placed the club badge, which remains unchanged to this day, on the founding charter: two crossed skis with a vertical ski pole. The six friends, having made history and possibly setting a then après ski record for schnapps downed, set off for St. Anton under a full moon. When they arrived back, Ferdinand Beil had to cut the boot off his foot, as it had frozen to his foot during this merry descent. Even the many falls of the group couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm, and the founding of the Ski Club Arlberg (SCA) extern proved to be more than a flash in the pan inspired by a landlord’s round.
For the members of the club, the joy of skiing was what counted, and the incipient ski tourism and racing was about to be promoted in the most effective way. The activities of the SCA, who organized races and ski courses attracted more and more ski enthusiasts to the Arlberg. Five years after that historic night, the number of members had already reached 147 – today, it stands at more than 9,000 members.
First mountain guide ski course
In March 1902, Professor W. Paulke and Karl Gruber held the region’s first mountain guide ski course, which ended with a tour on the Valluga. Paulke and Gruber recorded this in writing: ‘Put down your skis about 100 m below the summit and walk to the top. The guides who came up with them were: Ladner, Schwarzhans (St. Anton), Meier (Brand), Zangerle (Pettneu), Guem, Pfeiffer (St. Anton), Salzgeber (Tschagguns). Wonderful grandiose view. The descent went off splendidly with perfect snow’.
In January 1903, the club organized the first internal race. One of the winners was Hannes Schneider from Stuben, not yet 13-years old. The first general Arlberg race was also announced for March of the same year. Numerous race entrants arrived in St. Anton, but the weather put a damper on the organizers' plans, and the race had to be cancelled.
Ski-Club Arlberg organizes its first ski race
The next year, though, the time had come. On January 5th and 6th, the SCA invited entrants to the race in St. Anton. The programme included a long-distance and a high-speed race, a women's race and a youth race. Congratulatory telegrams received from other ski clubs and friends of skiing, and even one from Archduke Eugen, reflected the great interest in this event.
The route for the long-distance race was precisely worked out, and led from the Ulmer Hütte via the Schindlerferner to the Arlensattel, then up to Galzig, and from there down to St. Christoph and finally on to St. Anton. Today, it’s hard to imagine the high performance demanded of the participants at that time. The competitors snow-ploughed through deep snow, and with the heaviest sports equipment imaginable – at the beginning of the 20th century, there were no cable cars, lifts and nicely prepared slopes!
Guests move into the foreground
The race was to everyone's satisfaction, and the SCA was pleased to note that it actually served to promote Alpine skiing. But the club also promoted the understanding of skiers, and saw one of its tasks as being to make ‘the guests’ welcome in St. Anton. To, as they put it: ‘welcome them, to give them a hand, to provide them with a friendly and convivial place to practice their sport and to ensure that the population welcomes and supports the skiers with understanding and goodwill’.
As early as 1906, the then chairman, Adolf Gerstel, recognized the greatest advantage for St. Anton in his review of the first years of the SCA: ‘The economic benefits brought to our poor alpine high valleys by the increase in winter traffic must not be ignored’.