Hall of Fame Class of 2005
What Walter Foeger saw at the foot of Jay Peak, Vermont in December of 1965 would have discouraged the average skier. After all, he was hired and brought to America to start a ski school. So far, the new resort had only one bulldozed trail cut half-way up the slope, a Pomalift yet to be installed and a CCC barracks built in the 1930s for a base lodge. But this 39 year old enterprising Austrian knew he was in the right place at the right time. He was determined to revolutionize the way people learn to ski and now he had the mountain on which to do it.
Foeger was born in Innsbruck in 1917 but struggling to make ends meets after World War I, his family soon moved to Kitzbuhel. He got his first pair of skis when he was ten and by the time he was thirteen, he won the Tyrolean Youth Ski Championship, a title he defended for three years in a row. In 1936, he won the junior combined Hahnenkamm and in 1937, was picked for the Austrian National Team.
War interrupted Foeger’s ski racing career but in 1945, he was back on the slopes and co-founded the Austrian Ski Association, serving as director. The next year, he was chosen to coach the Spanish National Team and he guided them to the 1952 Olympics.
On his own and out of Austria, he experienced with ski techniques so when the job at Jay Peak beckoned him to a new continent, he was ready to make his mark.
Once in Vermont, Foeger did whatever it took to make his dream come true. First, he cleared the Sweetheart Trail to make a beginner run. Then he sold tickets and hot dogs, groomed the slopes with a hand-towed roller and taught classes of up to 50 beginners, all the while promoting his Natur Teknik which promised skiers as easier way to learn parallel turns.
In 1958, he wrote “Learn to Ski in a Week,” and students came in droves from as far away as Pennsylvania and Ontario to test his theory. What better way to entice skiers to rent rooms for a week rather than a weekend and build the rural Vermont economy at the same time.
To accommodate the new crowds, Foeger had to cut more runs and add more lifts. So deep was his commitment to grow Jay Peak that in 1960, he relinquished his salary so the company could finance a new chairlift. A grateful corporation made Foeger General Manager.
By 1967, he had totally transformed the mountain: adding an 8500 foot cable car, 3 chairlifts, 3 T-bars, a Pomalift, 45 trails, snowmaking, night skiing, mountain top restaurants, slope side condominiums and an Austrian-style hotel under construction. Plus, he chartered 14 Natur Teknik Schools in the U.S. and Canada. By the end of the 1970s, Foeger’s ski schools had introduced some 150,000 skiers to the sport.
When ownership changed at Jay Peak, so did Foeger’s opportunities to spread his ski technique world-wide. He left in 1968 and in 1973, returned to Austria to direct the country’s Tennis Association, a job he held until retiring in 1982.
Walter Foeger was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 2005.
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