Published Date Written by Tom EastmanSkimeister Herbert Schneider dead at 92
CONWAY — “Son of the Father of Modern Skiing,” but so much more than that, Cranmore skimeister Herbert “Zip” Schneider took the last “ski run” of this life in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 10.
Gentle-natured and of gracious good humor, Schneider, 92, a former Cranmore owner and a member of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, passed away with his family at his side at Maine Medical Center after a period of failing health.
Visiting hours for friends to pay respects to Schneider will be held at Furber and White Funeral Home in North Conway Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church at 11 a.m. Friday, followed by a private family burial. A public celebration of Schneider's life is set for the Eating House/Zip's Pub at Cranmore Friday from 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Furber and White Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Battling a weak heart, Schneider had been in poor health the last two months, according to his sons, Hannes, 45, and Christoph, 43. “It's ironic,” said Hannes Schneider, “because my father had the biggest heart there was.”
He had returned home Tuesday from St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria, accompanied by Christoph. He was brought to Memorial Hospital Friday and then transferred to Maine Medical that day, according to Christoph.
Christoph and Hannes Schneider spent the weekend with Schneider in his final hours at the hospital. Also there was Christoph's friend, Hannah Sullivan of North Conway.
“Dad lived a good life and full life. He was 92, he was a good husband, a great dad to Christoph and me, and and a wonderful grandfather to my two sons,” said Hannes Schneider.
Following the loss of his and Hannes' mother Doris in 2009, Christoph had devoted his life in recent years to caring for his father in his daily living and business affairs in North Conway and in St. Anton, where the Schneiders run a guest house.
“Obviously,” said Christoph, “dad was an iconic figure in the valley and who he was permeated our private lives as well but in a very positive way. Of course we learned our love of winter recreation from him. We never had a babysitter in the winter. We had ski instructors. I remember attending 10th Mountain Division reunions at Cranmore as a child and learning respect for the military and patriotism.
“In 2003 I acompanied dad on an unforgettable trip to Italy retracing his footsteps from 1944 and 1945. We attended together the final 10th Mountain Division national reunion in 2007 in Denver. He made sure I never forgot how lucky we are to live here in America and to know how important the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform are. These are experiences I will never forget.
“The entire family had the opportunity to attend the alpine ski world championships in St. Anton in 2001. And not just attend but have stadium seats for all the major events. Another unforgettable experience that would not have been possible if my father hadn't been who he was. The power of his personality and the genuine love that people felt for him afforded this family many opportunities that might not have been.
In 1990 I got to go to Japan with my father for three weeks and go skiing and attend the celebration of his father going there to teach skiing in 1930. How many people get to go skiing with the Prince of Japan and have dinner at the imperial palace in Tokyo? So our day-to-day family life was normal but we got to have incredible experiences thanks to dad. I am so grateful to have had these opportunities and to have shared them with my father. ”
Herbert Schneider was the son of famed Arlberg ski technique founder Hannes Schneider (1890-1955) of St. Anton.
The Schneiders came to North Conway in February 1939, after Hannes Schneider's release from Nazi custody had been negotiated by influential world financier, Cranmore developer and North Conway native son Harvey Dow Gibson (1882-1950).
Together with his famous father, Herbert worked to put Cranmore on the skiers' map of early ski resorts of North America.
Just two months after their arrival, Herbert accompanied lifelong best friend and fellow Austrian ski instructor Toni Matt on their hike up Mount Washington for Matt's famous schuss of the Tuckerman Ravine headwall in the American Inferno of April 1939.
Herbert did not compete in that race, always joking that his job was to carry Matt's sandwich for him. But over the years, he did compete in other races, with his highest ranking occurring in the U.S. Nationals in Aspen, Colo., in 1941 when he placed 11th in the downhill, sixth in the slalom and eighth in combined.
He and Matt became American citizens and served with the 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops during World War II. Herbert was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for action he took while on patrol in the Appennines in Italy in April 1945.
Returning home after the war in 1946, Herbert taught skiing at the Hannes Schneider Ski School and took over the school following his father's death in 1955.
Herbert Schneider was one of the founders of the Professional Ski Instructors Association in 1961 and served on the board until 1972.
Together with partners, he purchased the ski area from Mrs. Helen Gibson in 1963.
As president of the ski school and as general manager, he oversaw the expansion of the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Junior Program at Cranmore. He once told an interviewer he strongly supported that program because it gave an opportunity for every local schoolchild to learn how to ski.
Among those legions of young skiers were such future Olympians as Tyler and Terry Palmer and David Currier, all of the 1972 U.S. Ski Team; Abbi Fisher of the 1976 and 1980 Olympic squads; and current U.S. Ski Team member and 2010 Olympian Leanne Smith.
In 1966, he married former flight attendant Doris Beaudet of Hartford, Conn. In 1967, he authored the ski instruction book, “Let's Go Skiing.”
In 1970, through the support of local businesses, Cranmore installed snowmaking to lessen the impacts of poor snow years.
During his years as general manager, Cranmore hosted many ski events, as well as the Volvo International Tennis Tournament from 1975 to 1984 and the World Mud Bowl in 1979.
He and partners sold Cranmore in 1984. He remained a consultant to the team of successive owners over the years. He was esteemed as the area's ski ambassador.
Gentle-natured and of good humor in all of his dealings, he annually presided over the New England Ski Museum's Hannes Schneider Meister Cup as well as annual 10th Mountain Division gatherings.
He received several awards over the years. In addition to being named to the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 1992, he received the New England Ski Museum's Spirit of Skiing Award in 2009, and was made an honorary lifetime member of PSIA and of the Ski Club Arlberg of St. Anton, Austria, in 2010.
A true valley treasure
Outpourings of respect and gratitude were expressed by many in the ski resort community of Mount Washington Valley upon learning of Schneider's death,
1972 Olympian and former World Pro Ski Tour racer Tyler Palmer had nothing but kind words to say about Schneider.
“How do I put this?” said Palmer, who recently was named to the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame with fellow valley resident Phil Gravink of Jackson. “He was kind of like the 'Godfather of Skiing' as far as I was concerned. When I was a kid, we skied every day at Cranmore. My mother would pick us up at John Fuller School and we'd run like the devil to get on the Skimobile and up Cranmore to get some runs in before it got dark. Herbert would let us ski for free. He created a great life for my brother and I in skiing. I got to appreciate him a lot more when I got to go to Europe and St. Anton to race — he was my connection to that world from the start. He was so calm, and placid. He had a very good perspective on the valley and the sport. I absolutely appreciate everything he did for me, the sport and the town — he covered it all.”
Fellow U.S. Hall of fame member and former Attitash and Loon general manager Phil Gravink said Schneider was a quiet voice at group ski industry and White Mountain Attractions meetings, but always with something worthwhile to say.
“Herbie was not as forceful as some of the rest of us but he always was worth listening to,” said Gravink Monday upon learning of his friend's death. “He was a gentle soul who was very sure of his role. he unfortunately went through some tough times after Ed Mank's group bought the mountain in 1984, but after Les Otten bought the area and owned it for a year, we gave him the title of 'skimeister' and it was a real boost to him. He maintained that role up until today.”
[For the record, Mank's group did honor the Schneiders in 1989, when they presented the “Flight Without Wings” celebration in honor of the Schcneider family's 50th anniversary of arriving at Cranmore.]
“It's a sad day,” added Gravink, en route to a Ski NH meeting downstate. He said he was sure other ski area officials would share his sense of loss. “His favorite thing that he loved to talk about was St. Anton and his father,” said Gravink, noting he had the privilege to travel to St. Anton with Herbert in the late 1990s. “Herbert was so respected there — when he took you downtown, it was almost like hallowed ground. Everywhere you went, he was greeted and he wanted you to meet them. ”
Gravink said Schneider got a lot of respect from his employees because he let them do their own thing.
“He would say he was letting them make the decision, people like [late operations manager] Jimmy Mersereau and [ski school director] Karen Dolan, and he would tag along,” said Gravink.
Ben Wilcox, general manager and president of Cranmore Mountain Resort, agreed that they don't make any nicer guys in the ski business than Herbie Schneider
“He was so kind and supportive to me in my eight years here at Cranmore as general manager. I drove him down to new owner Brian Fairbank's house on Lake Winnipesaukee and I remember how on our way down and back how sharp he was, not only for ski history, but also about the ski business. He had such humility, of how to treat people, and I was always so impressed by his kindness.”
Fellow 10th Mountain Division veteran and Cranmore Snowsports School Hall of Fame member John McDonald, 88, of North Conway praised Herbert for his humility and grace.
“He was such a wonderful person. He did as much as he could for everyone,” said McDonald. “Being the son of Hannes, he would turn himself out to do some good for someone. His greatest contribution to the sport was in his sportsmanlike conduct. He pushed himself to try and do extra things, whether in the ski business or other business. He was always very helpful and supportive if it was good for the community — things like the Volvo International, for example. He will be missed.”
Bernie Weichsel, president of BEWI Productions Inc. of the Boston Snowsports Expo, and chairman of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame and Museum, presented the BEWI Award for lifetime achievement in the snowsports industry to Schneider in 1999.
“Herbert leaves a legacy that saw him involved with every aspect of the ski world — from his tenure in the famed 10th Mountain Division, to a founding member of PSIA; ski area operator and a founder of the New England Ski Museum — and with all these connections he left them better off from having been involved. There really was no part of the U.S. Ski Community that Herbert did not impact — not to mention all the skiers he impacted with his unique love of the sport and the mountains. He was in a class with very few equals and, sadly, we won’t see his kind again.”
Peter Pinkham, now of Pinkham Real Estate of North Conway, was owner/operator of the Eastern Slope Inn back in the 1960s and 1970s.
“He was a very gentle man, and very cooperative. He was without the ego that very often goes with being an instructor at one of the top ski schools,” said Pinkham.
He shared how Schneider was not stuck in the old ways, even though he was the son of Hannes Schneider, the most revered instructor in the world.
“I approached him with this crazy idea in 1965 of starting a new competition that didn't involve racing downhill on skis. I told him of the ski masters freestyle skiing event I had in mind,” said Pinkham.
"He went right with it. I asked him to be the top judge, and he said yes. Now,” said Pinkham, “because he said yes, that also led to the Valars [Paul and Paula] of Franconia also agreeing to judge, along with Danny Grant who was then at Wildcat. It was held at Attitash in January 1966 and that was the first freestyle competition ever. It probably would not have gotten off the ground if Herbert had not lent his name to it.”
After a tough snowless winter, he approached Schneider in 1970 to see whether he would approve of a concept he had to get then-revolutionary snowmaking to Cranmore.
“He said he would love to but that he didn't have the money. I said yeah, but would he go along with it if we formed a development organization in town to help finance it. He said he would, so that's how we got the snowmaking,” said Pinkham.
Both Wilcox and Gravink also said they feel the Schneider story will remain part of the valley's ski fabric.
“I know Hannes and Christoph very much care about honoring that heritage. I am sure they will continue to be at the Meister Cup every March, and that they will continue to honor the family's legacy and contributions,” said Wilcox.
Meister Cup to continue legacy
Cranmore Mountain Resort will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and the 74th anniversary of the Schneider's arrival.
The Hannes Schneider Cup is held as a fund-raiser for the New England Ski Museum of Franconia.
Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum, says he will be conferring with his board this week to discuss plans, but is sure there will be a special effort to honor Herbert's passing.
“Herbert Schneider was an athlete, decorated American soldier, ski teacher, ski area owner, community stalwart, ski industry elder, and a link to the invention of the mountain resort industry,” said Leich Monday. “As famous as he was in skiing, he could have gone to any resort in the world and had a comfortable life, but he chose to stay in North Conway, where his family found refuge from Nazi Europe. As owner of Cranmore, he was a major employer in the valley and had the foresight to install snowmaking earlier than many north country areas.
“Herbert,” added Leich, who lives in North Conway, “spent his life teaching tens of thousands to turn snow, gravity and speed into a mastery of skiing, bringing with it meaning, elation and bonds with family and friends.”
Peter Pinkham says, like everything, the passing of time brings the passing of memories.
"You know, how many people remember who Harvey Gibson was, and what he did for this valley? I think in time, that happens, but we'll see,” said Pinkham.
Tour of St. Anton
This reporter produced the 1989 ski history book, “Flight Without Wings: A Celebration of Hannes Schneider and 50 Years of Skiing at Cranmore.”
Because of that love of Schneider ski history, Leich and this reporter stayed with Herbert and Christoph Schneider at the Schneider guest haus in St. Anton in April 2005, during a ski history conference on the 50th anniversary of Hannes Schneider's death.
To go to St. Anton to learn about ski history would be a thrill for any ski history enthusiast and skier any time; to go with Herbert Schneider as your tour guide was priceless.
We toured the barn in his father's hometown of Stuben, where young 9-year-old Hannes made his first stops by veering down the hill and coming to a crashing stop by barreling into hay bales in the barn.
Passersby carrying their skis the day of our visit walked by the still-standing wooden brown barn, unaware of the historical connection; that this was where the great Hannes Schneider first learned how to stop.
And now, back here in North Conway, when skiers today take a run down Cranmore's Skimeister Trail, or stop by Zip's Grille, will they remember a once fleet-skiing, skinny instructor/later owner named Herbert “Zip” Schneider?
It's up to all of us to carry on the story — a great one at that, involving Hitler, the Nazis, the Schneiders, Carroll Reed, Harvey Gibson, Skimobile developer George Morton, and all the rest of us who continue to enjoy the ski life in this valley.
Frustratingly, Herbert did not get to ski in the past six years due to advancing age.
Freed from his frailties now, we know Herbert is living up to his “Zip” nickname by “Zipping” over the slopes up there in those sweeping trademark GS turns of old. Speaking for the valley, we thank you, Herbert, for 70 years of commitment to what was once known as the Eastern Slope Region. And, as your father would say, “Bend ze knees."