CONWAY — Spectators are welcome to join in the fun today at Cranmore Mountain for the opening ceremonies at 9:15 a.m. of the New England Ski Museum’s 23rd annual Hannes Schneider Meister Cup Race.
The ceremonies will be followed by racing, a silent auction and a vintage ski fashion show.
This year's event is notable as it marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival of its namesake, Austrian ski great Hannes Schneider (1890-1955), in North Conway in 1939.
For today’s opening ceremony at the base of Mount Cranmore, a color guard from the Army Mountain Warfare School of Jericho, Vt., will place the National and 10th Mountain Division colors on a stage constructed from snow by Cranmore’s grooming crew.
Ben Wilcox, general manager and president of Cranmore, will welcome everyone, and dignitaries will be introduced.
A plaque honoring Hannes' son Herbert Schneider (1920-2012), 10th Mountain Division ski troop World War II veteran and owner of Cranmore from 1963-84, will be unveiled before it is placed at the summit of the mountain at a later date (possibly on May 20, on what would have been Herbert’s 99th birthday).
According to Cranmore Snowsports School Director Karen Doyle, “Herbert was a wonderful lifelong promoter of skiing, especially for the kids of the valley."
Dolan, who worked with Carol Westervelt of Kearsarge and a committee of volunteers to get the plaque made by Arthur’s Memorials of Redstone, said that Schneider "believed that every kid in the valley should have an opportunity to ski and he was instrumental in making that happen through the Eastern Slope Ski Club’s Junior Program.”
The plaque reads:
“Herbert Schneider (1920-2012), a lifelong snowsports ambassador, coach and mentor. Herbert believed that everyone should have an opportunity to learn to ski. From training his fellow soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division for WW II to teaching future Olympians and instructors at Cranmore, his generous dedication to the sport has left an indelible mark on the ski and travel industry, the world over. A founding member of PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America); 10th Mountain Division World War II; Ski Hall of Famer; Co-owner and GM of Cranmore; and President and Board Member of ESSC (Eastern Slope Ski Club).”
Today’s dual giant slalom race course is located on the Alley, once the site of the Skimobile lift that operated at Cranmore from 1938-89.
Competition is stiff at the upper levels, but all abilities can ski the course with its width and relatively low angle.
Military teams will vie for top honors in a separate class known as the Meister Cup.
Hannes Schneider was a mountain soldier in Austria in World War I, and son Herbert and several of his fellow instructors fought in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II.
The Meister Cup honors the tradition of mountain and winter warfare-trained soldiers.
In addition to the race itself, there will be activities and pageantry all day.
A silent auction with clothing, equipment and gift certificates for skiers will take place at Zip's Pub at Cranmore from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
People are encouraged to ransack their closets for antique ski clothing and take part in the vintage ski contest in the early afternoon.
At the awards ceremony at 3 p.m., trophies for the numerous age classes will be presented by Hannes Schneider, great-grandson of the Austrian skimeister.
The alpine-inspired music of the Bavarian Brothers Band will add to the festive atmosphere all day. There is no cost to attend the event and spectators and Cranmore skiers are cordially invited to attend.
Then, on Sunday at 9 a.m., New England Lost Ski Areas Project founder and author Jeremy Davis will give a presentation on lost ski areas of the Berkshires at the Eastern Slope Inn.
But as always, the point of the weekend is to honor its namesake.
Jeff Leich, executive director of the New England Ski Museum, noted that it was on Feb. 11, 1939 that Hannes Schneider and his family stepped off a train at the depot in North Conway — today’s Conway Scenic Railroad station — and began his second career as ski school director at Cranmore.
Memories fade after eight decades, said Leich, and many today do not know the extraordinary story of Schneider’s arrest by Nazis in his hometown of St. Anton, Austria; the nine months he spent in detention in Germany; and the enthusiasm of skiers worldwide when the news arrived that he had been freed.
His release and emigration to America came about through financial negotiations conducted with the German finance minister by North Conway native Harvey Dow Gibson, by then a commanding figure in international banking.
The dramatic story is told in detail in the event program of the Hannes Schneider Race, which doubles as the Journal of the New England Ski Museum, the non-profit organization that the race benefits.
The publication will be available at Cranmore, the Eastern Slope Inn and the museum’s Eastern Slope Branch in North Conway.
The story also is a focus of my book, “The History of Cranmore Mountain."
Published by the History Press in 2013, it is available locally at the Eastern Slope Branch of the New England Ski Museum, White Birch Books, Zeb’s General Store and the North Conway 5 and 10.
As both publications note, much of the groundwork for skiing’s rise prior to Schneider’s arrival was due to the work of such visionaries as Carroll P. Reed (1905-95), who founded the Eastern Slope Ski School in Jackson in December 1936 as the American branch of Schneider’s ski school in St. Anton.
Snow trains brought skiers to destinations such as North Conway beginning in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps cut ski trails such as the Wildcat beginning in 1933. Rope tows and ski hills sprang up throughout New England. Black Mountain had one of the first overhead cable lifts in the country beginning in 1935. The invention of the Skimobile by George Morton for Gibson in 1938 helped to foster the sport’s enthusiastic growth, all helping to set the stage for Hannes Schneider’s arrival.
As Leich wrote in the New England Ski Museum Journal, the winter of 1939 is remembered for more than Hannes Schneider’s arrival in town: The first professional ski patrol in the country was in its initial winter at Cannon Mountain; Conway’s 30-meter ski jump was destroyed in a windstorm; Cranmore’s Skimobile went into service; and 19-year-old Austrian ski sensation Toni Matt electrified the skiers of the region with his straight-line run over the Tuckerman Ravine headwall in the American Inferno race on April 16, 1939.
For more information, call Cranmore at (603) 356-5043, or go to cranmore.com. Or call the New England Ski Museum at (603) 823-7177, go to skimuseum.org; visit the Eastern Slope Branch North Conway; or call them at (603) 730-5044.