Hall of Fame Class of 1977
Information submitted in a nomination letter to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame by Bill Southworth.
A native of the famed Austrian Alps, Sepp Benedikter moved to the United States and played an important role in promoting skiing in the west as an instructor, movie star promoter and ski area developer.
Sepp Benedikter was born June 4, 1911 in Bad Gastein, a spa high in the Austria Alps in the district of Salzburg – famous as the locale for F.I.S. and World Cup competition. He began skiing at 2 ½ years of age. The following year he entered a race for children under the age of 6 and won his first of over 200 trophies. He began national and international competition when he was 10 years old. Sepp placed and won in most major events here and abroad during his racing and jumping career. He held race card class ‘A’ in all events: jumping, cross-country, downhill, slalom and giant slalom. He was on the Austrian National Team for the downhill at the 1933 F.I.S. and on the Austrian National Team for the first 100 meter hill in Planica, Yugoslavia in 1936.
In the summer of 1936, Sepp succumbed to the lure of America when Averell Harriman, then chairman of Union Pacific Rail Road, offered him the opportunity to teach skiing and help open the fabulous resort of Sun Valley. The first chairlift was built in Sun Valley and designed by Union Pacific engineers. When this resort opened its doors on December 21, 1936, Sepp taught the first pupils of Sun Valley.
Shortly after this, Paramount Studios arrived to film She Met Him in Paris starring Claudette Colbert, Robert Young and Melvin Douglas. Sepp did his first skiing in an American production. In later years it was followed by such films as Sun Valley Serenade with Sonya Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle and the Glen Miller orchestra. Sepp doubled for Milton Berle as a beginning skier. In 1940, he skied in a training film for the U.S. ski troops produced by Twentieth Century Fox. Later he would produce and star in his own television production, “SKI MASTERS”.
Having fallen in love with America, he returned to Austria in the spring of 1937 to liquidate his business. Returning in the fall to Minneapolis, Minnesota, he became a technical advisor in buying at Dayton’s Department Store’s ski department. Training the sales personnel, he demonstrated the virtues of skiing on an indoor ski slope in the ski shop, surrounded by the latest ski equipment and clothing of the time. In the evenings, Sepp taught skiing on lighted slopes until midnight at Moon Valley, 18 miles from downtown Minneapolis. It was from this area that he organized ski parties to take to Sun Valley by special trains known as “Sepp Benedikter Houseparty.”
Cortlandt Hill, a great promoter of skiing in California, invited Sepp to spend Easter vacation with his family in the High Sierra where Mr. Hill had organized the Wooden Wings Ski Club consisting of the California social set and movie stars. Sepp became a private instructor.
The winter of 1940-41 saw Sepp back full-time on the Sun Valley Ski School Staff. That year, the weekly Standard Race from top of Mt. Baldy, “The Diamond Sun” was inaugurated and he was the first to win this prestigious award. This event was canceled some years later as being too dangerous. In 1946, Sepp came back to Southern California. On the fourth of July at the Inferno Down Hill race on Mt. Lassen, he made a spectacular jump over the highway which received much publicity. A less skilled competitor tried to imitate this maneuver and didn’t succeed, dropping 50 feet onto a car.
Among his greatest achievements was the construction of a 60-meter jump hill at the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona. Stationed by the Far West Ski Association, the U.S. Olympic Ski Team competed twice daily from September 14 through September 30, 1951.
During his term as president of the Far West Ski Instructors, dry land adult ski lessons were started. In 1958, Sepp organized a ski tour for the F.I.S. which was held in his home town, Badgastein; continuing on to Kitzbuhl and Garmisch, Germany; St. Anton, Austria; St. Moritz and Davos, Switzerland; Megeve and Charmonix, France and Sestriere, Italy. This was the first of the annual tours.
In 1964, Sepp purchased a rundown ski area, Rebel Ridge, and converted it into a successful operation which he sold in 1969.
Sepp Benedikter was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1977.
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