• Dr. Günter Kast

The white clan.

Arlberg Aufmacher

Skiing. With 8805 members from 60 nations, the Ski Club Arlberg, founded in 1901, is one of the oldest, most famous and most successful ski clubs in the world. Anyone who wants to be accepted into the circle must demonstrate a love of skiing - and a love of the region.

A winter afternoon at the Hotel Kaminstube in St. Anton: As every Wednesday at 4 pm, the members of the Ski Club Arlberg (SCA) arrive. The traditional house of the Kössler family is conveniently located right next to the piste. Some are still wearing ski clothes, but most are wearing the grey-red-white club sweater.

People greet each other, pat each other on the back, exchange business cards with newcomers - you are part of a large network. If you're lucky, you might even meet Karl Schranz, a St. Anton native. The two-time winner of the overall World Cup and one of the most successful Austrian skiers of all time, who has just turned 83, is no longer on the slopes himself, but he still comes to the SCA evening from time to time. After all, he was president of the club for a long time.

Ex-series winner Schranz is in good company at the SCA. No fewer than 65 medals have been won by SCA members at World Championships and Olympic Games to date: The list ranges from Trude Jochum-Beiser to Othmar Schneider to Patrick Ortlieb and Mario Matt. Probably forever unique in history: SCA members Schranz and Gertrud Gabl both secured the overall World Cup ranking at the same time in the winter of 1968/1969.

"Enchanted by nature, enthused by sport, imbued with the need to create a modest gathering place on the Arlberg for the friends of this noble pleasure, the excursionists involved in the extempore feel moved to found the Arlberg Ski Club. St. Christoph, 3 January 1901." The entry by SCA founding member and local councillor Adolf Rybizka can still be read today in the guest book of the once glorious Arlberg Hospiz Hotel. Rybizka and his five friends Carl and Adolf Schuler, Josef Schneider, Ferdinand Beil as well as a Mr. Gerstel had made their way from St. Anton to St. Christoph on the day in question.

It was supposed to be a fun trip in the snow. But with the heavy boards on their feet they were already quite tired when they reached the Hotel Hospiz at the Arlberg Pass. Here they really only wanted to rest for a short while. However, the cordial host Oswald Trojer and his pretty daughter Liesl made sure that the short rest turned into an exuberant party with plenty of mulled wine and schnapps. At the end of the day, the idea came up: "Shouldn't we found a ski club?

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Of course, the "Fantastic Eight" were not the inventors of skiing on the Arlberg. The first boards were brought by a Norwegian engineer who had come to Tyrol in 1880 for the construction of the Arlberg tunnel. However, the locals in St. Anton, with whom he was sprinting through the snow to work at the time, were initially quite suspicious of his Telemark skis. The first to copy the Norwegian was Pastor Müller of Lech, who made respectable turns in the snow a good ten years later.

At that time, St. Anton was still far from becoming one of the most famous winter sports resorts in the world. The mountain farmers, trapped in the hard daily routine, simply had no time for such fun. Until the six friends and the two hospice innkeepers decided at the beginning of the 20th century that it was time to float elegantly down the slopes here too.

With the founding of the SCA, the spark did indeed fly. To stay in the picture: It was virtually a conflagration. Only three years later, in January 1904, the first ski race took place - a novelty in the Alps. The course led from the Ulmer Hut over the Schindler-Ferner to the Arlen-Sattel, on to the Galzig, from there down to St. Christoph and finally to St. Anton. For the participants with their telemark skis, this was a sporting feat, as cable cars and prepared pistes did not yet exist at the beginning of the 20th century.

The newly discovered hunt for sporting success gave the ski-mad SCA member Hannes Schneider the idea of honing a new posture and skiing technique. He was the first to shift his weight so he could make turns while keeping his skis parallel. When shooting, he squatted down to be faster and to better compensate for bumps. He first taught his superior technique to the guests of the Hotel Alte Post in St. Anton. In the winter of 1921/1922 he founded Austria's first ski school in the village, because more and more tourists wanted to learn the Schneider turn.

It was now becoming increasingly chic to spend winter holidays in the mountains - especially in St. Anton, where one of the first cable cars in the Alps, the Galzig cable car, was built in 1937. And where ski instructor and heartthrob Hannes Schneider could be admired, who in the meantime had even become an actor and starred in cinema films such as "The White Art".

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Of the many SCA heroes, only one can really hold a candle to Hannes Schneider: Karl Schranz, who was also SCA president until 2005. The St. Anton native had become World Champion three times, had won the overall World Cup twice - and then dreamed of an Alpine World Ski Championships in his home village.

There were plenty of opponents, but Schranz made his plan come true: At the end of January 2001, the world's skiing elite actually gathered in the Tyrolean mountain village to crown their champions.

Today, more than ever, the club is a meeting place for all ski enthusiasts. "We don't want to be elitist. We are proud of every member. The prerequisites are an enjoyment of skiing and a love of the region. Therefore, the applicants must have been guests at the Arlberg for at least three years," explains SCA President Josef Chodakowsky, Schranz's successor and full-time director of the Raiffeisenbank in St. Anton. In addition, they only need two guarantors to submit the application - both must be SCA members, one of them must be a member of the board.

Steffen Lutz from Plauen in Saxony, who has been a regular at the Arlberg for a good 20 years, easily cleared these hurdles. "I was made aware of the SCA by a sailing friend. He thought this club would suit me. And so I joined in March 2003. The reception at the Hospice Hotel was really classy. I'm just proud to be in this traditional club," says the entrepreneur.

A real highlight for him is the annual "Ski Club Arlberg Week", where members from all over the world meet to celebrate together and, of course, to ski: From ski tours and heli-skiing to race training and ski testing, everything is on offer. And quite incidentally, a personal network can be built up, which at least does no harm in professional life.

"Making contacts is only a side aspect, though. Racing is still a central theme for the SCA, especially the promotion of young talent," explains Chodakowsky. The SCA currently trains more than 150 children and young people. There is even professional freestyle, freeride and snowboard training now. The SCA supports the parents in looking after the young skiers and pays the ski pass costs, for example for glacier training in the autumn.

The 60 euro annual membership fee for the SCA would not be enough to finance this. The SCA therefore relies on solvent donors among its many prominent members - including Princess Caroline of Monaco and her bully Prince Ernst August, as well as numerous entrepreneurs or Olympic champions such as Patrick Ortlieb.

For many decades, the SCA treasurer had also benefited from the fact that the club's history was so closely interwoven with the Hospiz Hotel in St. Christoph. Many guests stayed at the five-star hotel, which ran into financial difficulties in 2018, who deliberately wanted to stay where the history of skiing on the Arlberg began. And then, quite incidentally, they often became members or supporters of the SCA. Mostly when they had dined in the Skiclub Stube, decorated with two Gault Millau toques, looked after by the former chefs of the house, Florian Werner and his wife Ursula, both of course also members of the SCA.

In the meantime, Arlberg fan Steffen Lutz has also taken part in club offers such as race training. And when he is on site, he naturally visits one of the regulars' tables that take place on various days of the week in St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech, Zürs and Stuben. Locals, ski instructors and SCA members toast there: especially with the in-house ski club sparkling wine "Schussfahrt - Arlberg Reserve". And of course always in the SCA outfit with the same logo as 100 years ago.

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Welcome to the club.

The ceremonial admission to the Ski Club Arlberg - women and men are more or less equally represented - takes place at one of the traditional regulars' tables. After a speech on the history of the club, the novice signs the thick membership book in which the new name has already been pencilled in. The admission fee including the first annual membership fee amounts to 260 Euro, for children and young people 150 Euro. The package already includes SCA chronicles, various stickers and badges, the SCA chip card for loading the ski pass and the legendary club sweater. In addition, members may participate in traditional race events such as the SCA Club Championship, the Hannes Schneider Memorial Run and the Galzig Cup. They get a discount when participating in the White Ring (Lech) and the White Rush (St. Anton). And they get to shop in the exclusive SCA shop.

Dates of the SCA evenings in the winter half-year: Lech am Arlberg: Romantikhotel Krone, Tuesday 5 p.m.; St. Anton am Arlberg: Kaminstube, Wednesday 4 p.m.; St. Christoph am Arlberg: Hospiz Alm, Friday 5:30 p.m.; Stuben am Arlberg: Hubertushof, Friday 5 p.m.; Zürs am Arlberg: Hotel Edelweiss, Thursday 5 p.m. (more information: Ski-Club Arlberg; www.skiclubarlberg.at).

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Arlberg Hospiz Hotel: Good times, bad times.

For many SCA members, staying at the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel in St. Christoph was part of the good times for a long time. There may have been five-star hotels with larger, more beautiful wellness facilities - but the Hospiz was simply unrivalled in terms of tradition and history.

Heinrich, a foundling from Kempten in the Allgäu, worked as a pig herder on the Arlberg in the 14th century. Many travellers who wanted to cross the Arlberg pass at that time lost their lives in snowstorms and storms. Heinrich therefore asked Duke Leopold III of Austria for help. He gave him a piece of land on the top of the pass, where Heinrich built the first hostel on the Arlberg in 1386. The Hospiz Hotel is still located on the same spot today.

After a long and eventful history, Arnold Ganahl acquired the old Hospiz Inn in the summer of 1955 and began restoring it. Only two years later, the Hospiz and the church burned to the ground. Ganahl had the hospice rebuilt and it was opened in new splendour at Christmas 1959. In 1964, Adi and Gerda Werner, Arnold Ganahl's daughter, took over the management of the house. In 1993, son Florian Werner joined the company, which he later headed as managing director. Today, he says, "I wasn't mature enough." The house fell into financial disarray in 2018, and Werner retired from management.

In the fall of 2020, the Werner family brought Viennese real estate developer Erwin F. Soravia on board. Their goal: to renovate the main building with the help of the investor, to turn the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel into a year-round business, and thus to awaken the small village of St. Christoph from its slumber.

In addition, the Hospiz Alm, the gastronomic outlet on the opposite side of the street from the hotel, will receive a new, round and even larger wine cellar. This will be the home of the rarities Adi Werner has collected over decades. His collection of large bottles of the most famous Burgundy and Bordeaux châteaux is unique in Europe.

The Hospizalm, the chalet suites and the concert hall, which was built in 2015 and is the highest art and concert hall in the Alps, will remain unaffected by the renovations and will be open in winter 2021/2022. The main hotel, however, will remain closed this winter. An additional hotel with a younger orientation is scheduled to open in 2023.

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Author: Dr. Günter Kast

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