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Otto Schniebs

Hall of Fame Class of 1967

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Often considered the “Dean of American Ski Pioneers,” Otto Schniebs was the author of several books on skiing, one being Modern Ski Technique, written in collaboration with John McCrillis – the best known. His main claim to fame, however, is as a ski coach.

Otto Schniebs was born on December 18, 1892 in Esslingen, Germany and later moved to Wilmington, New York. He is credited with saying “Skiing is not just a sport; it’s a way of life.”

Under Otto’s encouragement, the Mount Greylock Ski Club was responsible for much of the early ski development in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. It helped lay out the Thunderbolt Racing Trail on Mount Greylock where it sponsored the first downhill race in the state in 1935. The winner was Otto’s Dartmouth College “Freshman Sensation,” Dick Durrance.

Otto learned to ski in his native Germany at the age of three. During World War I he hauled machine guns around the Carpathian Mountains – “And that’s not exactly sport.” He came to the United States in 1927 “to become a free man” and “escape the colossal stupidity of war.”

Otto’s Alpine Ski School, among the earliest in America, was held in West Newton and Boston in the winter of 1927-1928. The cost of lessons was fifty cents for two hours. He also taught and lectured throughout the area. In 1930 Otto was hired by Dartmouth College where, besides his work as a technician, he coached the Dartmouth varsity and “B” Ski Teams, speed skating and snowshoeing. Dartmouth’s Jack Shea won two gold medals in the 1932 Olympic speed skating competition. Otto wrote his first instruction book in 1931, followed by others. He noted that most modern books are too technical. “A beginner, unless he is a mathematician, can’t understand them.”

Otto stayed on at Dartmouth until 1936 when he moved to Lake Placid, New York and supposedly retired from college coaching. In 1941, however, his daughter, Elvira, persuaded him to become ski coach at St. Lawrence University where she was matriculating. Schniebs stayed until 1956 when he definitively retired from coaching. Everyone exposed to his charm will agree the Otto was a super salesman for the sport of skiing.

In 1963 he received the first safety trophy awarded by the United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association, the New England Council Silver Bowl, “for stimulating more interest in skiing than any other person in the country.” A monument on Schniebs Pass in Aspen, Colorado stands just a few yards from the spot where he predicted, in the 1930’s, the a large ski resort would rise someday.

As a coach Oto Schniebs placed nine men on one Olympic team and seven on another. He skied with Gretchen Fraser, the first American to win an Olympic gold medal (1948). Otto has received accolades from all over the country, including the White House and many of America’s best skiers. He was listed in the 1966 issue of Who’s Who in America.

Otto made an indelible mark on skiing in America by coaching many of America’s finest skiers and bringing out their potential.

Otto Schniebs was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1967.

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