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Bob Ottum
February 24, 1969
First he taught the world to wiggle on skis—but now Professor Kruckenhauser has discovered a better way: go wide-stance and whoop it up like all the kids do
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February 24, 1969

An Infallible Revelation By The Pope Of Skiing

First he taught the world to wiggle on skis—but now Professor Kruckenhauser has discovered a better way: go wide-stance and whoop it up like all the kids do

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And in Austria, that great snowy factory of ski instructors, the old professor has added a few touches all his own, which Americans might well copy. From the wide-stance, arms-held-out start, beginners slip into a little thing called the Hacker—not to be confused with someone who plays golf poorly. It is pronounced "hock-ah" and is simply a quick heel thrust to the downhill side to bring the skier to a virtual stop. Once almost stopped, it is easy to jump around into a turn, however sloppily. And if that does not seem easy—and one must never worry about it—there is always the downhill stem, in which one stems the downhill ski just before going into a turn and then turns.

Kruckenhauser's kids who do the Hacker well are called the Schwupskinder, which really means something like the oops-kids, and the movement is just about what it implies. The Hacker is the first move of a Schwups. First the heel thrust, then the little jump and then, oops, the skier is suddenly going nicely around the turn.

And, as a final touch, Kruckenhauser recommends keeping beginners on short skis until they have got the idea and have decided that this game can really be fun after all—something nice in 1.50-meter skis for ladies and 1.70 for men.

And lest anyone think all this sounds too easy, that Kruckenhauser has gone and uncomplicated a sport that likes to feel exclusive, remember all those Austrian ski instructors. They still are laboring up that Arlberg Pass to study at the master's feet. As chairman of the national Austrian ski instruction plan the old man certifies 150 to 200 new teachers a year and sends them out into the world with the wide-stance. He has taught some 2,500 in the past 30 years: of the 5,000 instructors now in Austria, about half have passed his exam, the others must still face the professor and serve as assistants while waiting. All of them must come to Kruckenhauser sooner or later if they want success, and he says, "Those who don't show enough talent don't stay with me very long."

Then, draining the last of the very dry Gibson, the professor slams both hands down on the table and everyone in the room jumps. There. The audience is over. That is the end of his story. And he gets up, shakes hands and walks out of the room. But it is not exactly the end.

Next day there he is on the mountain behind his old barracks, working with his instructors. It is 10:30 a.m. and they have been waiting for him since 9. He has been on the telephone. He has five phones and he hates every one of them. He takes the class away from the barracks because, sure enough, his wife is going to lean out of an upstairs window and yell through her own megaphone that he is wanted on the telephone again. Now he starts to work the student instructors in typical Kruckenhauser fashion by yelling: "Los! [start], Halt! [stop]. I told you not to start before I say 'Los!' you Trottel [fool]. I told you to wedeln three turns in the wide-stance and then close your skis. That was a lot of garbage, Schwarz. Get up there again. Are you napping up there on top? We'll never finish today if you keep taking vacations." At noon they all troop into the barracks for lunch. Whatever it is, it will taste like boiled cabbage. Practice starts again at 2. At 4, when it is dark, they go in. "I have tea with my instructors," the professor says. "I live with my instructors. Mao or Hitler can live apart from their people, but I cannot. Between 5 and 6:30 p.m. I am with the younger instructors. We repeat theory, show slides and films. We have a discussion, then we have dinner. Very often we show films again at 8, and most of the films are commented on by me. This will last until 9 o'clock. I hardly ever get to sleep before 11 or 12 o'clock."

"We don't mind when he talks tough," said one of the instructors on the hill. "We know he is very good, and when you want to learn something you don't mind the yelling. And we all love him anyway."

As if that were not enough, the old man goes every Friday to teach skiing and gently browbeat the kids at St. Jakob elementary school down the pass near St. Anton. That is because he knows' the kids are leading the way and he watches them closely in all their unpracticed, natural moves.

Standing on a hill above the school, with the slanting sun on that craggy face, the old man says: "It is necessary that skiing have a dictator. A coach who has absolute dictatorial rights. You can't handle such hard jobs with functionaries who do their jobs on an honorary basis. Take my son-in-law, Franz Hop-pichler, the Austrian national team coach. He has a contract, that reads like this: 'It is not important how much money I make, but I have all the say. Also, nobody can fire me during the next four years. I can only be fired if I have raped someone or stolen 200,000 schillings. Otherwise, nobody can fire me. I can quit at any time. Nobody can give me any orders. I am the one who decides who races where. I make the decision where I will take my racers.' Before Hoppichler there were honorary functionaries. Hoppichler now gets a salary, but I can tell you it is a ridiculous sum. He gets 10,000 schillings [$400] a month as a civil servant and he has to care for a wife and four children."

The old dictator nods wisely to his kids as they flash by. He adds an occasional scowl and a "Hup!" He has been keeping up this pace—promoting skiing and photography—for all his life and it has not made him rich. He even has to borrow pretty ski sweaters to be photographed in because he gives all his other sweaters away to people who need them. But much of the world now skis his style, which he feels is a sort of special reward.

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