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Otto Lang - A Bird of Passage

Chapter 1: Bosnia

p. 3: Otto Lang was born to Austrian parents in Bosnia in 1908.

Chapter 3: Starting a Career

p. 42: In the winter of 1928-29, Lang got his first ski instructing job at the Semmering.

p. 49: In autumn 1929 Lang became a government-licensed ski instructor and mountain guide. Following the guide's test, he was hired by Hannes Schneider for the ski school at St Anton.

Chapter 4: St Anton am Alberg

p. 54: Beginning on this page, the author describes the development of the Arlberg skiing technique by Hannes Schneider. He provides a short description of the techniques that preceded it (as developed by the Norwegians and the Austrian Mathias Zdarsky) and explains Schneider's contributions, particularly of the stem christie, parallel christie, and a system to teach these techniques. Schneider's ski school at St Anton am Arlberg opened in December 1907. The author notes that by 1910, "ski mania was breaking out all over Europe."

Chapter 6: America the Beautiful

p. 94: On December 5, 1935, Lang arrived in America to teach skiing at Sugar Hill, New Hampshire.

p. 99: Of skiing in the U.S. at the beginning of 1936, the author writes: "I remember it as the age of innocence in skiing, the wild and woolly days of near self-destructive impulses of skiers, carried away by their enthusiasm and let loose on the slopes without proper schooling and often inadequately equipped... There was a rich field to be mined in teaching those hordes of skiers how to do it right. It was only the beginning of a sport that would envelop America like a tidal wave, from the mountains of New England to the Rockies to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest to the Sierra Nevada, the Southwest, and beyond. I considered myself privileged to lay the groundwork for skiing's future developments."

p. 101: During the winter of 1935-36, Lang began writing the short instructional book, Downhill Skiing, which explained the fundamentals of the Arlberg technique.

Chapter 7: To the Pacific Northwest

p. 105: In early spring 1936, Lang traveled with Jerome Hill (grandson of "Empire Builder" James Jerome Hill) to the Pacific Northwest in order to make a documentary film of skiing, Ski Flight, at Mt Rainier and Mt Baker (see also p. 109).

p. 106: The author arrived at Mt Rainier on the weekend of the 1936 Silver Skis race, won by Hannes Schroll. He describes the race, initiated by Royal Brougham, sports editor of the Seattle P.I. in 1934.

Chapter 9: The Start of a New Ski Career

p. 124: In autumn 1936, Lang returned to America with Hannes Schneider and Benno Rybizka to participate in a mammoth winter sports show to be held at Boston Garden and New York's Madison Square Garden. The author writes, "There was no doubt that the show created an enormous impact. Eighty thousand people saw the show in New York alone, with the 'standing room only' sign often posted at the box office." Lang's book Downhill Skiing appeared in bookstores about the same time.

p. 127: In December 1936, Lang arrived at Mt Rainier to open America's first official Hannes Schneider Ski School. Ken Syverson had been in charge of skiing activities at Rainier before this, and he became Lang's right-hand man. A student of the ski school was Gretchen Kunigk, sixteen years old. She would later marry Don Fraser, winner of the inaugural Silver Skis race in April 1934 (see p. 107). In the 1948 Olympics at St Moritz, Gretchen Fraser would become the first American skier ever to win a gold medal.

p. 129: Sun Valley resort opened in December 21, 1936, featuring the world's first chairlift, designed by James Curran, an engineer with Averell Harriman's Union Pacific Railroad. The author provides a good description of the genesis of the resort. Lang visited Sun Valley in February 1937 at the invitation of Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller provided assistance getting Ski Flight onto the big screen.

p. 138: During the spring of 1937, Lang worked with A&T ski company to produce a signature model ski made of hickory, with segmented steel edges. He also helped develop a steel ski pole, inspired by True Temper golf clubs. He never pursued a patent on the ski pole idea, and following the war, other companies produced metal poles.

p. 143: Ski Flight premiered at Radio City Music Hall in January 1938 alongside Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (see also p. 148).

Chapter 10: A Second Year in the Northwest

p. 145: During the 1937-38 season, Lang opened another ski school at Mt Baker. At that time there were no lifts in place at Baker. He commuted between Baker and Rainier on alternating weeks. During the season, Webb Moffett and Chauncey Griggs installed a rope tow at Paradise. Also during that season, Lang opened his third ski school at Mt Hood (p. 152). Timberline Lodge had been opened the previous summer.

Chapter 12: My Third Winter in the Northwest

p. 178: In December 1938, Lang began his third winter in the Pacific Northwest, accompanied by his bride Sinnie. Previous chapters (see p. 156 and 176) described the worsening situation in Europe. In March 1938, Hitler's troops had marched into Austria and taken over the country. During the Nazi takeover, Hannes Schneider was arrested and imprisoned. Thanks to intervention by influential friends, he was released and allowed to leave for America in February 1939.

p. 188: The author briefly describes the victory of Peter Radacher, assistant to Friedl Pfeifer at Sun Valley, in the 1939 Silver Skis race.

Chapter 13: Domesticity

p. 192: During the summer of 1939, Friedl Pfeifer offered Lang a position as co-director of the Sun Valley ski school. Lang accepted. He writes: "It had been a good and productive three winters for me in the Pacific Northwest, but upon soul-searching analysis, the prospects were discouraging. Mount Rainier, with its Paradise Inn battered by time and the elements, was never meant to become a destination winter resort. Its location in a national park limited possibilities for expansion. And while the inn was quite acceptable for the relatively short summer season, it was inadequate for the winter months... The same shortcomings applied to Mount Baker, only more so, since it was harder to reach and had insufficient living accommodations at the ski area. Mount Hood with its Timberline Lodge was in a better position, due to its proximity to Portland. I knew that the future of these three places as destination resorts was dubious and that only Mount Hood had a chance in succeeding as a year-round attraction."

p. 196: In late August 1939, Lang and his wife traveled to Yugoslavia, hoping to rendezvous with his parents and sisters. Warned in a telegram from his father that war was about to break out, they canceled their plans and caught a train to Paris. They arrived in Paris on September 1 to news that Hitler had invaded Poland. After a few tense days, during which Lang was at risk of being interned for the duration of the war because of his German passport, they boarded a ship and steamed to New York.

Chapter 14: Life at Sun Valley

p. 206: Lang and his wife settled in Sun Valley for the 1939-40 winter season, his first with the Sun Valley ski school.

Chapter 15: War Years

p. 225: During the 1941-42 ski season, Lang took over as director of the Sun Valley ski school, after Friedl Pfeifer was jailed on suspicion of being a spy for the Germans. Pfeifer was exonerated after a few months, but did not return to Sun Valley until after the war. By this time Lang had met Darryl F. Zanuck and was starting to become involved in film-making.

p. 226: During the 1941-42 season, Lang made a training film for the 10th Mountain Division called The Basic Principles of Skiing.

Chapter 16: Postwar Years

p. 268: Toni Matt was director of the Sun Valley ski school for one season, in 1948. The author includes a description of Matt's legendary schuss of the headwall at Tuckerman's Ravine, which was unintentional, caused by a loss of control during his first turn near the top.

Following the war, Lang made a transition from ski instructing to a career in Hollywood film-making. The second half of the book deals with this part of the author's life. I have not included notes about it here.

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Last Updated: Tue, Jan 08, 2013 9:26:50 PM