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Cranmore, NH: Celebrating Austrian Roots

At Cranmore, the Hannes Schneider Meister Cup celebrates the Austrian roots of American skiing—and the man who taught the country how to ski.

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Lycra race suits probably ought to come with a warning label: Use with caution if over age 30. For many competitors among the 180 gathered at Mt. Cranmore, N.H., last March for the 12th annual Hannes Schneider Meister Cup, Lycra was not the most flattering attire. It might be fast, but it is also uncompromising in revealing extra, poorly placed pounds accumulated or redistributed in the years after a high school or college racing career.

But hey, for the majority of the participants, looking good wasn’t the point. In fact, going fast on the relatively short, easy course might not have been especially important, either, although in an event that pulls together many old friends and reignites regional rivalries, there might have been a few personal scores to even and bets to settle.

No, the Hannes Schneider Meister Cup has always been mainly about stirring the melting pot of ski history. In large part, that consists of an effort to keep skiing’s past alive in skiing’s present. Financially, that means raising a pile of cash for the New England Ski Museum, which exists to preserve the history of the sport both regionally and internationally. The event fills the bill quite nicely, annually raising more than $25,000 through entry fees, contributions and silent-auction proceeds.

But the connection between past and present is apparent at the Meister Cup in more evocative ways, too. Competing in the race, for example, were two Hannes Schneiders—one a grandson of the original, the other a great-grandson. Also in the mix were 10th Mountain Division veterans, such as 85-year-old Dick Calvert—still competitive enough that he took the time to tune his skis the night before—mingling with current 10th Mountain Division members from Fort Drum, N.Y. A team of racers even showed up from St. Anton, Austria, home of Hannes Schneider (the original) before he was chased out of Europe by the surge of Nazism in the 1930s.

How cool: the storied Austrian ski area—arguably the birthplace of both ski instruction and downhill ski racing—maintaining a connection with tiny Mt. Cranmore, a continent away. Such a connection, of course, is entirely due to the legend of Hannes Schneider, which hung like an atavistic penumbra over the entire Meister Cup. Schneider, in his day, was almost certainly the sexiest man in skiing, an enormously influential catalyst in spurring the growth of the sport both in Europe and in North America. He was a star of ski movies in the 1920s—long before “ski movies” became a genre. He also was perhaps the original apostle of ski instruction, first teaching the Arlberg method in St. Anton as early as 1907 and later bringing it to America, influencing ski instruction for generations to come. “Bend zee knees,” “weight on zee downhill ski” and all that? Thank you, Hannes Schneider.

He also lent to the fledgling sport in North America a European flair that made skiing elegantly chic. A sport sprouting in the hill pastures and backwoods of New England needed all the international panache that a guy like Schneider could bring to it. Hannes Schneider was at the vanguard of faux-Tyrolian architecture and culture spreading across American ski resorts.

So on Meister Cup day, Mt. Cranmore was overrun by a crowd gathered to celebrate the eminence of the great man of skiing history. Cranmore’s marketing director estimated that about a third of the people on the hill that day were affiliated with the event—as racers, as spectators, as family, as volunteers.

In keeping with an Austrian theme, yodeling music warbled from the PA system. Racers ranged in age from 10 to 90. Most of them—though certainly not all—exhibited sound Arlberg-method fundamentals. In the tent at the base-lodge deck, beer flowed prodigiously, and there was talk of schnapps circulating surreptitiously—beverage choices that Hannes Schneider himself certainly would have approved.

At the awards ceremony in the base lodge—its dim-lit, exposed post-and-beam interior itself a throwback to another era—pretty women strolled about, modeling retro ski clothing fashions. Pleated stretch pants and leather knickers in the land of Lycra. For one day at the Meister Cup at Mt. Cranmore, it was a cross-generational juxtaposition of skiing couture that made perfect sense.