“Emo wanted something different,” Otto Egger explains to me, his accent still giving away his roots some five decades after he left the slopes of his native Austria for those of Vermont.
Egger, who was then a ski instructor at Mad River Glen, remembers his first meeting with fellow Austrian Emo Henrich. Henrich was trawling for talent to come south to his ski school at Stratton Mountain, which had opened two years earlier in 1961. Though it was hours closer to New York City than the hopping ski scenes at Stowe and in the Mad River Valley—and though it loomed at a respectable 3,750 feet—Stratton Mountain needed an identity. Henrich, who was hired by the resort’s founder, Frank Snyder, set about creating it.
He did so by finding the kind of people who, like Egger, shared his contagious zest for the sport of skiing and the aesthetics of the lifestyle that accompanied it. “He wanted people who could teach the ski technique of Austria but also entertain and spread the culture of Austria,” Egger explains. Egger not only signed on as an instructor at Stratton’s ski school, he also became a founding member of the Stratton Mountain Boys, whose yodeling, shoe-slapping and general knack for social lubrication endure as a symbol of the core—the gemütlichkeit—around which Stratton evolved.
Henrich passed away last May. He’s greatly missed, but his legacy thrives at Stratton. You find it in a ski school that remains a central component of the ski experience for weekend visitors and regulars alike. You find it in the respectful coexistence of skiers and snowboarders (after all, Jake Burton, between bartending shifts upstairs, honed his early prototypes in the basement of Henrich’s Birkenhaus Hotel). You see it in the determination of the Stratton Mountain School athletes, zinging down their racecourses each morning. And you see it in a Stratton liftline on a typical ski day, where many of the faces you find are ones that have been here from the beginning, accompanied now by younger and still younger versions—all living testimony to the enduring appeal of Henrich’s vision of the ski life.