Childhood and early years
Hannes Schneider was born in 1890, a time of radical changes. The small village Stuben that had once been a warm home for people travelling over the Arlberg pass had become unimportant once the Arlberg train had been operating. Family Schneider had originally come from Marul; Josef Schneider had been working in a quarry when the Arlberg train track was built and was then hired for road constructions. In April 1889 he got married in Stuben to Filomena Matdies from St. Jakob am Arlberg. The oldest son was named Johann Baptist; in the 1920ies they then called him Hannes, for better commercial input. He
grew up in Stuben with four siblings: three brothers, Josef Anton, Alois and Friedrich and one sister,
In the late 19th and early 20th century the first skiers came to the Arlberg. In 1895/96 Paul Martin from Lindau came to ski on the Arlberg several times. On December 18th 1899 Hermann Hartmann – who also came from Lindau – arrived in Stuben and climbed up the Galzig – that was the first ascent with skier s
in this region. According to his own words it was in 1900 when young Johann Schneider for the first time had seen skiers in Stuben: Viktor Sohm, Max Madlener and Karl Gruber. Meeting Viktor Sohm had a great impact on his life later on.
Viktor Sohm as ski instructor
Young Johann Schneider found his mentor in Viktor Sohm, who had the right inputs for skiing on the Arlberg at the beginning of the 20th century. On the Gebhardsberg Sohm had already experimented with skiers which had been imported by his brother in 1887. After his stay in the US he continued his tries
on skies at the end of the 19th century and soon after found people with the same interest around him. Very soon Sohm and his acquaintances started to travel to the Arlberg.
Around the same time the Ski Club Arlberg had been found on January 3rd 1901 in the Hospiz in St. Christoph. This club under the leading of Rudolf Gomperz and Carl Schuler was very important for the support of skiing on the Arlberg and also for the training of the young skier Johann Schneider . At first, Schneider got special support by Viktor Sohm, though.
In 1903 at the age of only 12 years Johann Schneider could show his talent in the first club intern race of the Ski Club Arlberg. Later on he took part in the ski races on “Bödele” where he won the senior jumping competition. Instead of the trophy the young skier got a new pair of skies to support his career which was quite frustrating for the 15 year-old as he had admired the trophy just before. His success made him known fast and through Fritz Iklé he received an invitation to work as ski instructor in Les Avants in Switzerland. At the same time Schneider was invited by the manager of the leading hotel in St. Anton - Hotel Post - and Rudolf Gomperz, who had settled in St. Anton in 1905 and who had become chairman of the Ski Club Arlberg in 1906, to become ski instructor of the Arlberg Ski Club in the Hotel Post. “I preferred to stay in my home town and in my mountains” was the motto of Schneider and his parents for sure supported his decision. In December 1907 he then started work as ski teacher in St. Anton.
Arlberg technique and ski school
Before the First World War there was no method of teaching skiing; it was more a combination of demonstrating and imitating.
Even though numerous participants came to his ski lessons during his first years in St. Anton, Schneider still had a lot of time for developing his own technique. His goal was to make skiing fast but still safe – it was the downhill skiing that pleasured him, not the ski touring. He tried to emphasis on stem plough,
stem turn and stem Christiania and rejected the telemark. Also Schneider started skiing more and more crouched which later became famous as the “Arlberg squat”.
During World War I Johann Schneider gave ski lessons to soldiers a great impact on his later teaching method which was known as the „Arlberg school“ – lessons in groups divided upon their abilities. After the end of the War Schneider
established his own ski school independent on the Ski Club Arlberg and the Post Hotel. The number of hired ski instructors rose throughout the 1920ies.
Ski movies and Arlberg-Kandahar
Dr Arnold Fanck had noticed the skier Hannes Schneider before the First World War. In 1920, he made the film "Miracle of the Snowshoe" with Hannes Schneider, which was a portrayal of skiing at that time. Fanck employed selected cameramen, the most famous of whom were Sepp Allgeier and Hans Schneeberger. He discovered the ideal actor for his films in the shape of Schneider.
A new genre of film was thus born: the "German mountain Film", whose two most famous and, apart from Fanck, practically the only, protagonists were subsequently Leni Riefenstahl and Luis Tenker.
In the 1920ies silent films, Hannes Schneider always portrayed the skier or the mountain climber. He embodied a type of man from the mountains closely associated with nature. Many of his ski instructors also played minor roles in Fanck’s films.
Hannes Schneider acted in the following films
- Im Kampf mit dem Berge (1921)
- Marvels of Skis – (1922)
Part 2: Fox Chase on Skis through the Engadine
- Peak of Fate (1924)
- The White Art (1924)
- The Holy Mountain (1926)
- The Great Leap (1927)
- Fight for the Matterhorn (1928)
- The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929)
- White Ecstasy (1931)
- Mit den Skiern in den Alpen (1931)
Due to a visit in St. Anton am Arlberg the British pionier of skiing Arnold Lunn met Hannes Schneider. In the last years in Mürren, Switzerland, Lunn had been active for the popularisation of the alpine disciplines downhill and slalom, mainly through the Ski Club Kandahar.
For 1928 the first holding of an alpine combination of these two disciplines had been planned in St. Anton am Arlberg. This combination should also become a combination of the two organizing ski clubs: Arlberg-Kandahar. Friedrich Schneider – the younger brother of Hannes - was able to make himself as winner of the first downhill race from the Galzig. The success of the Arlberg-Kandahar-combination had a great impact on the international breakthrough of the alpine ski racing. From 1931 on the race was alternately held in St. Anton an Mürren.
Around 1930 Hannes Schneider reached the peak of his fame: Film stars and celebrated personalities from all over the world came to learn skiing in his ski school in St. Anton am Arlberg. Together with Rudolf Gomperz Schneider had brought into life the so-called DAKS (German Arlberg Lessons Schneider) which attracted thousands of German guests to the Arlberg. This promotional measure has been a milestone in the development of organized winter tourism. His journey to Japan in 1930, where he held many speeches and demonstrated his skiing technique, strengthened the international fame of the “Skimeister”. 1935 he led a promotional trip for St. Anton to France, England and Belgium. One year later he travelled to the United States for the first time. Accompanied by Benno Rybizka and Otto Lang, his two ski instructors working in the US, Schneider held skiing demonstrations in New York City and Boston.
After the invasion of the German infantry in March 1938 Hannes Schneider’s life changed. The new dictators who had not been accepted in the ski school as illegal national socialists ordered his arresting and his later departure to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He was not allowed to return and restart his ski school. Thanks to international contacts family Schneider was able to move to the US in 1939, where a known financier , Harvey Dow
Gibson, hired him to build up a ski area in his home town North Conway (New Hampshire).
Rudolf Gomperz – who has often been honoured too little until today – was not so lucky: Although he was baptised protestant he was still considered "fully Jewish" by the NS race laws. As such he was brought to Vienna in 1942, deported to the East and executed in an extermination camp. Hannes Schneider on the other hand also stayed in the US after the end of World War II where he died in 1955.